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Friday, December 23, 2005

Wharington tips big things for Skandia.

Wharington tips big things for Skandia. 23/12/2005. ABC News Online

Recently launched hi-tech carbon fibre supermaxis Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats are favourites to take out line honours in the Sydney-Hobart race starting on Boxing Day, but a yacht that failed to finish last year could upstage them both.

Under a major rule change for the 2005 race, there will be no upper speed limit, enabling boats unrestricted use of sail area, water ballast, canting or swinging keels and mast heights.

In the past, a speed limit was imposed for safety reasons, but with improvements in yacht design race officials have dropped restrictions on the use of new technology.

Under the new rules, boats with canting keels will no longer be restricted in the degree of cant, allowing them to swing their keels to design limits from the vertical and enabling yachts to heel over further as they put more sail to the wind.

Grant Wharington, the skipper of canting-keel Australian supermaxi Skandia, has rejected suggestions canting-keel boats are dangerous, with critics worried swing keels may become stuck.

"I see canting keels as a thing of the future and we are having some teething problems," said Wharington, who abandoned his yacht in Bass Strait while leading the 2004 race, after its canting keel broke and the boat capsized.

"I wouldn't be sailing with one if I thought it was too dangerous. I want to come home and see my family."

Bookmakers have named Alfa Romeo, a canting-keel 30-metre supermaxi with carbon fibre in its hull, mast, boom and working sails, as favourite for the notoriously tough 628 nautical mile race down Australia's south-east coast.

Second favourite is another carbon-fibre supermaxi, Wild Oats, followed by Skandia, an older-style supermaxi which won line honours in 2003 and was rebuilt after its 2004 mishap.

"We are substantially faster than we were last year, so it will be very interesting to see the difference in performance," Wharington said.

"I think we will be able to give the other boats a run for their money. I think the boat will be very, very fast and will be hopefully fast enough to be able to get line and handicap honours."
Light winds

A total of 86 yachts are scheduled to start the 61st Sydney-Hobart, one of the toughest bluewater classics. In 1998 six sailors died and dozens were rescued after a terrifying storm slammed into the fleet.

Meteorologists are forecasting light winds for the race which will see yachts race down the mainland's south-east coast and cross the notoriously dangerous Bass Strait to the river port of Hobart, on the southern island state of Tasmania.

The race record of one day 19 hours, 48 minutes and two seconds was set by Danish downwind flyer Nokia in 1999.

Forecast light winds may rob the 2005 hi-tech supermaxis of a chance of breaking the record, but skippers and crews are optimistic technology will beat the weather.

"If these boats have reasonable breeze for the whole race they will beat the record. If they have the breeze that the record was set in, they will absolutely smash the record," said Mark Richards, sail master on Wild Oats.

-Reuters
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