A decision not to fly a spinnaker in fresh winds within the narrow confines of the Dent Passage, because of safety concerns for other yachts, proved costly for Neville Crichton’s super maxi Alfa Romeo in today’s 30 nautical mile Baynham Island Race.

The newly launched 30-metre yacht broke two battens in her massive mainsail during gybes soon after the start, with owner/skipper Crichton electing to retire from the race.

“We would have destroyed the mainsail had we continued racing,” Crichton said after returning to Hamilton Island marina.

Both he and sailing master Michael Coxon expressed concern at starting the race within the confined waters of Dent Passage off the entrance to Hamilton Island Harbour, a decision the Race Committee had made early today because of the heavy sea conditions in the original open water area set for the start, north-east of Hamilton Island.

Alfa Romeo started under mainsail and jib, while most other boats in the 28 boat IRC fleet hoisted spinnakers – many quickly getting out of control.

“We believed it could have been dangerous for smaller boats had we hoisted a spinnaker. There were many boats out of control…we saw at least six collisions within the Dent Passage,” Coxon said.

One of the most spectacular was a crunching encounter between two Geelong boats, Graeme Troon’s XLR8 and Christian Jackson’s Prowler, following Prowler’s broach. XLR8’s portside stanchions were smashed and the boat was forced to retire, with Prowler also retiring later.

“Because we were sailing conservatively with just mainsail and jib we did not have sufficient boatspeed when we needed to gybe the main,” Coxon explained. “The impact of the mainsail on the runners cracked the top batten on the first gybe and then the third batten down cracked on the second gybe.

“This is our Sydney-Hobart mainsail, so we did not want to ruin it. It also means we can race again tomorrow,” Coxon added.

Alfa Romeo’s retirement from this second last of the nine race series has cost her any chance of winning the IRC class on handicap. She must now carry her 24th place on corrected time in race two of the regatta as today’s retirement is now her “drop” race.

With the south-easterly wind freshening to 25 knots, all race classes provided the most spectacular sailing under spinnaker so far at Race Week, with “Chinese” gybes, broaches and boat breaking collisions. At least one boat retired with injured crew and the famous maxi Brindabella lost its sailing master Andrew Jackson overboard in a heavy wind gust – he was picked by the Camera Cat media boat and returned to Brindabella.

Several more yachts got into difficulties as they re-entered the Dent Passage from the south, running hard under spinnaker and then encountering a “washing machine” of waves churned up by the tide against the wind and running sea.

With Alfa Romeo out of the race, line honours went to Bob Oatley’s 66-footer Wild Oats, with helmsman Mark Richards getting a perfect downwind start under spinnaker and clearing out from the fleet. “The top true wind we got was 24 knots…line was an unexpected reward, but we will take it,” he added.

Wild Oats, packed with a crew of 20 for this fresh weather race, took line honours for the first time in Race Week and also won her third race on corrected time to take a commanding pointscore lead with 13 points. Wild Joe (Steven David) is second overall on 21 points, followed by Loki on 28 points, with Alfa Romeo dropping from first on the IRC leaderboard to be fourth on 33 points.

Neither Bob Oatley nor his son, Sandy, were aboard Wild Oats today because of high level meetings about expansion plans for Hamilton Island Resort, which they own. However, at a press conference later day Bob Oatley said there was no question that Alfa Romeo was “the fastest maxi yacht in the world today.”

However, he is currently building a new 30-metre LOA Wild Oats, also designed by Reichel/Pugh to take on Alfa Romeo and other super maxis in the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and major regattas in Europe in 2006.

Tomorrow will see the final event of the 2005 Hamilton Island Hahn Premium Race Week with the 22 nautical mile South Molle/Daydream Island Race.


Owner/skipper: Neville Crichton

Club: Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron

Sail No: NZL 80

Designers: Reichel/Pugh, USA

Builders: McConaghy Boats, Sydney, Australia

Electrics, electronics, control systems Olectric Systems

and programing for the keel, winches

and sail trim functions

Construction: Hull – carbon fibre composite. Keel – steel; Rudders and Mast – carbon fibre; Sails – 3DL carbon/mylar

Keel hydraulic ram, hydraulic manifolds Central Coast Hydraulics and Engineering

Mast: Southern Spars, Auckland, New Zealand

Winches, deck gear: Harken Winches

Sails: North Sails, Sydney, Australia

LOA: 30.0 metres

Beam: 5.2 metres

Draft: 5.2 metres

Mast: 44 metres (42.2 metres above deck)

Sail area: Mainsail: 314 square metres

#1 genoa: 208 square metres

#1 Asymmetric spinnaker: 805 square metres

Weight: 25.5 tonnes

For further information

Text and high resolution pictures:

Neville Crichton Edward Rowe

Tel: +61 (02) 9701 8000 Tel: +61 (02) 9701 8015

Fax: +61 (02) 9701 3555 Fax: +61 (02) 9701 3555

Mob: +61 (0)409 166 166 Mobile: +61 407 913 244