Rare Hobart treble hangs in the wind



SYDNEY ? A rare treble beckons the big boats in the Sydney to Hobart race starting here this afternoon, but favourable breezes could also prove the undoing of at least one of the fancied super maxis.

A record four 30-metre super maxis, new boats Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats XI and revamped Skandia and Konica Minolta, plus the 27-metre AAPT, which took line honours last year sailing as Nicorette, comprise the largest lineup of big boats in the history of the race.

With the fleet of 85 tipped to be driven by freshening north-easterly breezes from tonight until Wednesday morning, Nokia's 1999 race record of one day, 19 hours, 48 minutes and two seconds appears under threat.

AAPT skipper Sean Langman declared on Christmas Eve the record was "gone'' and said there was a "fantastic opportunity'' for one boat to claim the treble of a race record and line and handicap honours. The only boat ever to achieve the treble was the very first Sydney to Hobart winner Rani back in 1945, when the 35-foot cutter had only eight boats to beat. Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats XI are considered the favourites for both line and handicap honours with the 60-footer Loki also tipped to perform well in the battle for overall victory.

History shows, however, that at least one of the fancied big boats normally doesn't make the finish line in Hobart. Last year, neither of the two line honours favourites, Skandia and Konica Minolta, made it to Hobart. While this year's forecast appears to favour the big boats, Skandia's Will Oxley and Konica Minolta's Gavin Brady both warned they could be susceptible to sail rather than structural damage if the forecast conditions did eventuate. "You are going to have to look after the boat pretty carefully, because there's an awful lot of load on those sails and the sheet,'' Oxley said.

"It's probably going to be the boat that does the best job of looking after the gear that's going to get there first.'' Brady warned big boats could suffer from sail damage.



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