Exile ahead in two-boat tussle

 

Exile and the favourite Brindabella were fighting out a fascinating duel in the Sydney-Hobart yacht race yesterday. The tightest finish in years is expected today with the 66-foot Exile two nautical miles ahead of her rival in what has become a two-boat race after rough seas and high winds forced several contenders to retire.

After successfully crossing the treacherous Bass Strait, the two began their charge down the east coast of Tasmania, ahead of a sprint up the Derwent River.

The smaller Exile had been holding sway until 10 o'clock in the evening yesterday when Brindabella, after being behind for more than 30 hours, finally drew ahead.

Not by much, it has to be said, as a photographer in a helicopter was able to capture the two boats in a single frame. There still seemed to be nothing much between them in speed and as the wind had lightened to around six knots, Exile was at no disadvantage.

It, therefore, promises to be a continued battle when the two boats round Tasman Island and head across the Bay of Storms for the final leg up the river Derwent to Hobart.

It is that final 11 miles of this 630 mile marathon where the race can be won and lost, as it often has been in the past. The history of the race is filled with examples of dashed hopes in this last tricky passage to the finish.

Ludde Ingvall, the skipper of Nicorette, which is back in the race after a short sojourn in port for repairs, confessed in Hobart that his health problem had been more serious than he had imagined.

Far from it being caused by an abscessed tooth, examination has revealed that he has been suffering from trigeminal neuralgia and he is to undergo brain scans in a Hobart hospital today.

Exile still leads the fleet on handicap, comfortably from Brindabella, but as the breeze has lightened, the smaller boats begin to close in on the on-the-water leaders on corrected time.

Karl Kwock's Beau Geste, a Farr-designed 49-footer, is neck and neck with Syd Fischer's Farr 50 Ragamuffin, but has time to spare on her side and could be the overall winner of this race for China.

Beau Geste and her two teammates lead the Southern Cross Cup series for China and this race is the culmination of the series. Exile is another member of that team, and with Neil Pryde's Hi Fidelity sufficiently well-placed, China seems set to score its first major win in off-shore racing.

The outcome of this race is likely to be decided sometime today with last year's winner, George Gjergja's Ausmaid, poised to repeat that performance. This 47 footer was 10 miles behind Ragamuffin and constantly attacking the bigger boats' lead. The first boat to finish should cross the line off Battery Point early this afternoon.