Race favourites Wild Oats XI and Ragamuffin Loyal led the
fleet around the Sydney Heads as the Sydney to Hobart yacht
race began in controversial circumstances with the exclusion
of 2003 line honours winner Wild Thing.
The Grant Wharington-skippered super-maxi had failed to
submit documents that showed modifications to the boat met
safety requirements and race rules, officials told a hastily
called media conference less than three hours before the gun.
"The race committee has worked with the owner of the boat
Grant Wharington to allow him up to three hours prior to the
start of race to provide the documentation required,"
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Howard Piggott
"However, this has not been forthcoming - the race committee
has no option but to not accept the entry of Wild Thing."
Wharington appeared at the CYCA to enter negotiations with
organisers less than an hour before the start of the
628-nautical mile blue-water classic, but officials said the
exclusion would stand.
"We're absolutely devastated to be told at the 11th hour we
won't be racing to Hobart," Wharington told reporters outside
the CYCA shortly before the start of the race.
"We're a bit stuck for words as to why it's happened. We've
provided documentation - I've got it in my hand - were given
approval on Wednesday that we were able to go, then
subsequently withdrawn, so we are absolutely devastated.
"It's required under race rules that the design has to be
signed off in accordance with ABS (American Bureau of
Shipping) and the wording on this report says quite simply
that the information provided and assessment undertaken falls
under the ABS guide.
"(Wild Thing's modification) falls within the guide. I'm
A 20-knot southerly is expected to bash the 76-boat fleet
down the coast of New South Wales on Wednesday, before a
nor-east wind picks up early on Thursday.
The exclusion of Wild Thing has meant the event is likely to
again turn into a drag race between Wild Oats and Ragamuffin.
Ragamuffin pipped the Mark Richards-skippered Wild Oats by
less than three minutes last year for line honours following
a tactical tacking duel on the Derwent River just before the
Richards expected the conditions to favour the bigger maxis
though was unsure of whether the race record of one day - 18
hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds, which the yacht set in
2005, would be challenged.
"It'll be pedal to the metal, don't back off and take the
shortest route to Hobart," he said at the pre-race weather
briefing on Monday.
"The big boats can do 20 to 30 knots in that northerly.
"So if it hangs in for a couple of hours longer than
expected, you can be an extra 60 miles down the track. Or it
can go the other way."
Wild Oats, who have installed a massive new headsail and
modified their keel in an effort to increase speed in lighter
winds, have won the race five times and victory this year
would move them within one win of equalling the record of
seven held by Morna/Kurrewa IV.