Perpetual Loyal takes big lead in Sydney to Hobart

The Associated Press

SYDNEY (AP) -- Perpetual Loyal opened up a lead of 10 nautical miles over fellow super maxi and defending champion Wild Oats XI early on the second day of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

''Last night we were further out to sea and that paid off,'' Perpetual Loyal navigator, American Stan Honey, said on Friday. ''We are pleased to be in the hunt, because light air is not our strong point and it's been light all night.''

Wild Oats XI counterpart Tom Addis admitted his boat, attempting to win the race for a record-equaling seventh time, had a lot of work to do.

''It was a messy night, pretty benign, 15 knots as the maximum,'' Addis said of the light winds. ''There were a lot of storms off the coast and we got tangled in the tail end of them.''

Behind the two super maxis were two Volvo 70s, with New Zealand yacht Giacomo running third, 14 miles off the lead, and Black Jack another six miles back. They were followed by super maxis Ragamuffin and Wild Thing.

Wild Oats XI held a slender lead over Perpetual Loyal when the yachts sailed out of Sydney Harbour on Thursday. Thousands watched from the foreshore and from spectator craft bobbing in choppy water in the harbor.

There were 94 starters, including 22 from outside Australia. The overseas contingent included 12 boats from the Clipper Round the World race, which for the first time included the Sydney to Hobart as the sixth race of its 16-race schedule.

There were two withdrawals due to equipment failures.

Wild Oats XI set the race record of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds last year when it also won handicap honors.

Skippered by Mark Richards, Wild Oats XI is owned by wine mogul Bob Oatley, who is heading up the Australian challenge for the next America's Cup and is the Challenger of Record through his Hamilton Island Yacht Club.

Race officials warned the Sydney to Hobart fleet to expect gale-force winds and waves of up to 12 meters (40 feet) on Saturday. While the bigger boats, including the super maxis, should be finished before the bad weather hits, the smaller and slower boats might have problems.

In 1998, six sailors died and five boats sank in rough seas during the worst weather in the race's 68-year history.

Vicky Ellis of England was at the helm of the yacht Switzerland, which was in 58th place early Friday. She's the only woman skipper in the Clipper race and one of two in the Sydney to Hobart.

Ellis said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that Switzerland needed to make up ground after a slow start.

''It's going very well now,'' Ellis said. ''The yachts we are overtaking now are bigger than us.''

Noting the bad weather forecast for late Saturday, Ellis said: ''I'm hoping we'll be finished by then.''

The race to Hobart covers 628 nautical miles, or 1,163 kilometers (723 miles). The fleet moves down the southeast coast of the Australian mainland, then across the often treacherous Bass Strait to the island state of Tasmania. The final portion of the race sees the fleet move up the Derwent River and to Constitution Dock in Hobart, the Tasmanian capital.