SYDNEY: A handful of smaller yachts took a surprise early lead over heavily favoured super maxis Skandia and Zana shortly after the start of the 59th Sydney-Hobart race yesterday.
Australian yachts Ichi Ban, Yendys and Grundig held a narrow lead over the rest of the 57-strong fleet about five hours after the start as they hugged the coast after leaving Sydney Harbour.
The New South Wales 52-footers (15 metre) Ichi Ban and Yendys and Grundig were taking the straightest and most direct course for the 630 nautical mile race.
Australia's Skandia and New Zealand rival Zana surrendered their early leads when they headed further out into the Tasman Sea in search of stronger winds and following currents.
The two new state-of-the-art 30 metre yachts did not immediately find the stronger winds but were still expected to reclaim the lead within hours as the fleet sailed into southeasterly headwinds down Australia's east coast.
The biggest boats ever to compete in the bluewater classic, Skandia and Zana started conservatively in overcast conditions and moderate southeasterly winds at the beginning of what was likely to be an intense tactical duel.
Melbourne property developer Grant Wharington's blue-hulled Skandia sliced its way out of Sydney Harbour ahead of Zana and the fleet of local and international yachts.
But the New Zealand yacht overtook Skandia about three hours after the 1 pm (0200 GMT) start and built a lead of between eight and 10 boat lengths when Wharington's boat lost time as its crew changed a headsail.
We had to make a sail change that cost us and the breeze is a bit further right than we were expecting, Skandia navigator Will Oxley told race officials.
Of the bigger boats which headed further out to sea, Zana and Skandia led from Swedish maxi and 2000 race winner Nicorette and the Australian maxi Brindabella.
Skandia and Zana are both only two months old and were built specifically for the gruelling Sydney-Hobart, which takes competitors across the notoriously rough Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and the island state of Tasmania. Reuters