NZ boat has Aust on run

SYDNEY ? The four fancied super-maxis were all inside race record pace after a blistering start to the 61st Sydney-Hobart yacht race yesterday. Three hours after the 1.20pm start, the quartet of high-powered boats were already south of Wollongong, travelling at 13-14 knots.

They were all ahead of Nokia at the corresponding stage in 1999 when it set the existing race record of one day 19 hours 48 minutes and two seconds.

New Zealand boat, Alfa Romeo, led by one mile from Australian yacht, Wild Oats XI, with Victorian super maxi Skandia a further mile and a half astern.

Also inside race record pace was the second New Zealand super maxi, Konica Minolta, which was 8.5 miles behind Alfa Romeo. Wild Oats XI claimed the initial bragging rights, beating Alfa Romeo for the honour of being first through Sydney Heads.

However, Neville Crichton's super-maxi hit the front just over an hour into the race and looked set for a lengthy duel with Wild Oats.

The leaders made rapid progress despite relatively light breezes at the start of the race. The wind veered from the south-east to the north for the start of the long journey south, though it only got up to around seven or eight knots in the early stages. Wild Oats made a clean start, while Alfa Romeo appeared to be checked.

Pre-race expectations of a race record were dampened by the morning's forecast.

The skippers of virtually all of the leading contenders felt the forecast winds would not be strong enough for long enough to give them the best chance of eclipsing Nokia's mark, as had initially been predicted on Christ- mas Eve.

A large fleet of spectator craft also filled the harbour with kayak paddlers among the onlookers.

The most nattily dressed crew were yachtsmen aboard Hugo Boss, who were attired in dinner suits until after the start. Crew member Nick Moloney was reportedly offered a suit for his wedding in September as his fee for the race. Two smaller boats, the Hick 31 Toecutter and Farr 40 Inner Circle, were both recalled after breaking the start prematurely.

Konica Minolta's owner Stewart Thwaites revealed he had rung compatriot Crichton last night to wish him luck.

"It (Alfa Romeo) is a Kiwi boat after all,'' said Thwaites. Punters found it hard to separate Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats, with the two new super maxis leading the betting list of a number of organisations.



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