UPDATE: 9.44pm: LMAX Exchange is the first Clipper yacht to cross the finish line at Airlie Beach in the Henri Lloyd Hobart to Whitsundays Race – closely followed by GREAT Britain.
THE Henri Lloyd Hobart to Whitsundays Race has been a week-long “sprint” of tight unrelenting match racing over 1600 nautical miles, which is now going down to the wire.
GREAT Britain is currently attempting to out race LMAX Exchange, just 0.7 nautical miles ahead as at 6pm local time.
“It’s been a good race but it’s not over yet,” GREAT Britain Skipper Peter Thornton said.
“LMAX Exchange is less than a mile ahead of us, Garmin is just 7 nautical miles behind, and with all of us heading for a tricky island passage as it gets dark it is going to be a tense night. We will see what happens.”
LMAX Exchange Skipper Olivier Cardin recognises it’s too close to call.
“The match race we (have been) doing for the last 48 hours is just crazy,” he said.
“We never went ahead or behind more than two miles from GREAT Britain. The finish between the little islands and strong current will be very tricky. Impossible to know who will cross the line first.”
The fleet has spread out a little over the last 24 hours but two other teams are also duelling for a points advantage: Unicef hopes to hang onto sixth place just over a mile ahead ofIchorCoal.
“Dawn saw us still in the company of Darren and his IchorCoal team,” Unicef Skipper Martin Clough said.
“A visiting cloud helped us work below them but when two islands got in our way we tightened up to clear them and merged in slightly ahead…the Unicef team is now trying to fend off IchorCoal’s attacks!”
Further back in 10th and 11th positions, PSP Logistics has been keeping its eye on Visit Seattle.
Skipper Max Stunell explained: “This race isn’t over yet, as every time I look over my shoulder the Seattlites are there and we know they will be pushing all the way to the line.
“Having had a few crew losses in Hobart I have been very impressed with how my crew have stepped up and filled those gaps,” he said.
PSP Logistics has since opened up a seven mile lead.
The tactical challenge of the last closing miles was described by ClipperTelemed+ Skipper Matt Mitchell.
“From what I can see there are two main options – either cutting between the Whitsunday islands through the channel there, or go the marginally longer route around the outside,” he said.
“This morning we have opted for the outside route. I wasn’t convinced of the reliability of the wind in the passage and all the pilot books were warning of strong tidal flow, especially on the ebb tide, as well as back eddies, meaning big problems could occur if the island blocks the wind.”
Garmin‘s Ash Skett was in a more reflective mood sitting in third place.
“The main thing for us now is to defend our position, not make any mistakes and pray for no breakages,” he said.
“With Airlie Beach just around the next corner, it’s time to reflect on what has really been a race of two halves. The blast up the coast of New South Wales, although exhilarating at times and lightning fast, was also very challenging and pushed the crew to near breaking-point.
“Mercifully, as we crossed into the waters of Queensland, the wind settled and veered to a much more gentlemanly angle and the sailing towards the end of this race could not have been smoother.”
Not many crew (or spectators for that matter) will have any nails left after all the frantic biting that’s been going on.
The top five teams are within 30 nautical miles of each other, with the leaders expected to cross the line between 9 and 10pm local time.
Eleven yachts are due into Abell Point Marina by mid-day Sunday local time.
Mission Performance is expected to complete the line-up in Airlie Beach late Sunday evening.