SYDNEY: Super maxi rivals Skandia and Zana increased their lead in the 59th Sydney-Hobart race yesterday and were engaged in a tense tactical battle as they sailed down Australia's east coast into freshening headwinds.
Melbourne property developer Grant Wharington's Skandia led New Zealand rival Zana by barely one mile as they navigated across the notoriously rough Bass Strait on the second day of the 630 nautical mile race.
Skandia and Zana steadily increased the gap over surprise early leader Grundig of Australia as they sailed into southwesterly headwinds of up to 25 knots and choppy seas while they began crossing Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and the island state of Tasmania.
The two state-of-the art 30-metre (98 feet) maxis, the biggest ever to compete in the annual bluewater classic, have staged a virtual match race since leading the fleet out of Sydney Harbour on Friday.
“It has become an incredible match race in the open ocean,” Zana's sailing master Peter Sutton told race officials during a scheduled radio position report yesterday afternoon.
Wharington earlier said the pair had tacked in tandem at least 16 times as the wind swung from left to right during the night. “We've just been tack for tack with them the whole night,” Wharington told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
By 1700 yesterday (0600 GMT), Skandia had covered about 300 nautical miles in 28 hours and was on course to finish late today.
Pre-race favourite Skandia and Zana were projected to finish within six minutes of each other based on their current speed of about 11 knots.
However, race officials said Zana could easily overtake Skandia for the second time in the race if conditions continued to freshen. Zana briefly sailed past Skandia on Friday before both were headed by Grundig.
Zana appeared to be closing on Skandia again, with local television reporting that photographers in helicopters flying over the fleet had seen Skandia crew members trying to fix an apparent mast or rigging problem on board the Australian boat.
Downwind flyer Grundig had slipped back to be about 14 miles astern of Zana by late afternoon and Swedish maxi Nicorette, the 2000 race winner, was not far behind.
Grundig had been a surprise leader overnight after a tactical gamble by Skandia and Zana failed to pay off.
Skandia and Zana headed further out into the Tasman Sea soon after Friday's start in search of stronger winds and a following current. – Reuters