Sydney to Hobart to deliver late-night survival test
ANY chance of a race record was blown away by light winds on the first night, but a big blow on the second will determine the winner of this year's Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
The Australian classic was becoming a survival test for the five supermaxis chasing the line-honours trophy on late on Friday afternoon as they headed down the Tasmanian coast towards the finish line on the Derwent River in Hobart.
Winds up to 40 knots are forecast to propel the 100-footers on a hair-raising and potentially hazardous downwind ride under the cover of darkness.
"They will be flying down the coast of Tasmania,'' meteorologist Roger Badham said.
This high-speed, high-risk sailing is what sailors dream of, but it comes with hazards - including the potential for ploughing into a submerged object at high speed and suffering potentially race-ending sail damage.
"A Sydney to Hobart is always a balance of pushing hard and knowing when to back off,'' Scallywag skipper David Witt said prior the race start on Thursday.
Grant Wharington, who is sharing the steering duties with Witt, knows better than anyone the risk of super-fast sailing.
Wharington hit two sunfish when skipper of the maxi Skandia back in the 2004 and 2005 races and suffered major damage on both occasions.
Neutral Bay businessman Jim Cooney and his Comanche crew - which includes wife Samantha, daughter Julia and son James - were expected to revel in the strong running conditions forecast for Friday night.
So too was Lane Cove's Christian Beck and his team on the heavyweight InfoTrack.
But then their rivals - the lightweight Scallywag, Wild Oats and Black Jack - are tipped to shine as the wind drops and lightens on the final approach to Hobart.
"It could be the best finish we have seen in this race,'' Witt said.
InfoTrack returned to the front of the fleet on Friday afternoon for the first time since leading out of Sydney Heads at the start of the race at 1pm on Boxing Day.
She was being shadowed by Scallywag and Black Jack with Comanche further out to sea.
Ichi Ban, Stay Calm Hungary, Quest and Gweillo were vying for the lead in the battle for corrected time honours.