Yachting classic gets off to a flyer
THE highly anticipated spinnaker start may have failed to materialise but a mass of onlookers were nonetheless treated to a spectacular start to the 2006 Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
Thousands gathered in and around the harbour and were blessed with both a glorious Sydney day and one of the fastest starts in the race’s history.
A swarm of spectator craft flooded the harbour as 2005 line honours winner and race record holder WildOatsXI powered out to sea ahead of fellow super maxis Skandiaand Maximus.
Boats big and small flanked the fleet in search of the closest possible view, creating a sometimes chaotic scene.
They also added another challenge for many of the race’s smaller entrants with a number of near misses as the backend of the fleet left the heads.
Meanwhile, there was barely a spare section of open space on the harbour’s foreshore as many, keen to take advantage of the sunshine that had deserted Sydney for most of the past week, packed vantage points from early this morning.
The first spinnaker start to the race since 2003 had been anticipated but the bigger yachts chose not to bring them out, although some of the smaller boats tookadvantage of the southeasterly breeze so the crowd was not totally deprived of the colourful sails.
The boats began to assemble as five-time race winner Trygve Halvorsen fired the 10 minute warning signal before South Australia’s John Powell, who won the race in 1950, signalled the final five minutes of jostling for position.
On the stroke of 1pm, as no fewer than 13 helicopters hovered above, 90-year-old 1947 Sydney to Hobart crewman Dennis Mason fired the cannon to send the fleet on its way south for the 62nd time.
Aided by slightly stronger than expected winds, the entire 78-strong fleet had cleared the heads within half an hour in a tightly-bunched field, and the spectator craft seemingly cleared the harbour with equal speed as the yachts trailed off down the coast.
Although David Kent’s Gillawawas the last boat out of the heads, BSG’On Tap’was technically last when it was forced to the backof the field after missing the second sea marker on the way out to sea.
This year’s fleet includes eight international entries representing the Netherlands, New Zealand, Italy, Canada and the United Kingdom and has attracted 26 yachts that are first-time entrants.