Audi Sydney Offshore Newcastle Race battle of wills

VICTOIRE. Audi Sydney-Newcastle 2011
The Audi Sydney Offshore Newcastle Yacht Race continues up the NSW Central Coast today.

Earlier this afternoon, Stephen Ainsworth was in the driver’s seat to claim overall race victory and the Blue Water Points Score title with his Reichel/Pugh 63 Loki. But first Loki must overcome the never-ending challenge from her smaller opponent, Victoire. Presently only around 20 odd minutes stands between Loki and Victoire Darryl Hodgkinson’s Beneteau 45, to claim race victory.

Loki still has 54 nautical miles to reach the finish and at the time of writing, was travelling at 6.3 knots, while Victoire had 105 miles to go, her boat speed at 4.7 knots.

'Well, it’s a beautiful day. A light sea breeze has filled in and we are making good time towards the finish. We have Seal Rocks to leeward. I’m always impressed when I see it during the day, especially when travelling south,' navigator Michael Bellingham said from Loki at 1.30pm.

'I see Pretty Fly is a little slow offshore, and we can see Victoire 50 nautical miles behind. We are close on corrected time with her. All will depend on our finish time and if the breeze stays in during the night,' Bellingham conceded, well aware of the challenge still ahead.

'I would like to think we would be in by 7.00pm, but maybe it’s more like 8-8.30pm if the wind stays,' he said.

Colin and Gladys Woods’ Pretty Fly III is second on line to Loki, but the Cookson 50’s boat speed has slowed to 4.6 knots. Andrew Wenham’s Volvo 60, Southern Excellence, one mile astern of her, sailing marginally faster at 4.8 knots. The different scenarios tell the story of the difficulties of picking an overall race winner.

However, nothing is set in concrete and the race is still wide open. As conditions on various parts of the course change, so do positions, as Jim Nixon, who is in charge of Copernicus in Greg Zyner’s absence, is only well too aware.

Having led the race this morning following a strong performance overnight while others wallowed in the light air, the Radford 12 has dropped back to fourth overall, overtaken by Loki, Victoire and Roger Hickman’s Farr 43, Wild Rose.

'We took a bit of a gamble that really paid off. We went right inshore and picked up a nice little land breeze that carried us along the shore. Greg’s (Zyner) not with us as his mum is really sick, so we’re sailing this race for her, as she usually follows our progress.

'At about 7pm last night we saw some westerly breezes coming off Norah Head and we decided to come in and try our luck. We tried this a couple of times before, when we were sailing with John Walker (Impeccable) and we were able to sneak up the coast while all the other boats were offshore and gain some advantage,' Jim Nixon told late this morning.

'Other times we’ve done this and we’ve been parked up near Stockton, but the gamble paid off this time. All in all a great night!

'Everyone is starting to mow us down now - Equinox II has just overtaken us - so I’m not sure how much longer we can maintain our position.' He was right. 'We have a good sight of all the boats to windward of us,' Nixon added.

Earlier, Wasabi’s owner/skipper Bruce McKay said: 'We’re working hard to make back some ground. We have the Code Zero up and we’re driving like it (the boat) is stolen!'

At 1.05pm today, Dennis Cooper retired his Sydney 36 cruiser racer Amante from the race, citing time constraints. His is the first retirement, leaving the number still racing at 17.

AMANTE. Audi Sydney-Newcastle 2011

Ted Tooher’s Chancellor is leading the fleet at the rear, the Beneteau 40 still had 126 nautical miles to contend with, sailing north of Newcastle towards the Audi buoy that must be rounded before the return journey to Newcastle’s Hunter River finish line.

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