SYDNEY-HOBART RACE DRAMA

The Skandia’s crew makes its way towards the police rescue craft Van Diemen.(1/5)”
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Just after 2am, Skandia skipper Grant Wharington knew the game was up.

With a canting keel jammed to starboard, 50-knot squalls and 7m swells off Tasmania’s North- East tip leaving his yacht’s 98-foot frame listing dangerously and out of the Sydney- to-Hobart, there was nowhere to go but home.

But how to get there?

Wharington tried to guide his 16-strong crew to safety under motor but they were eventually forced to leave the ship in inflatable rafts.

They were eventually picked up by police launch Van Diemen about 9am, seven hours after issuing the mayday call, and took a six- hour ride to Flinders Island and safety.

“It is a terrible blow to all of us to have to pull out of the race,” Wharington said.

“We have sustained some irreparable damage to the keel and for safety reasons are unable to continue.”

While technically not abandoned, by late yesterday the yacht had become an obstacle for the smaller yachts in the race, drifting about 60 miles from Eddystone Point. It had capsized and its keel had snapped off.

It was unclear whether the damage was related to a collision with a 300kg sunfish while powering into Bass Strait early on Monday.

A tug will try to recover it early today.

Fellow super maxi Konica Minolta lasted six hours longer than Skandia before skipper Stewart Thwaites officially retired the yacht about 8am, two hours after it was hit by a massive wave.

Gavin Brady, an America’s Cup sailor and Konica Minolta’s principal helmsman, said the boat felt like it was facing the sky with most of the keel out of the water as it launched off “a 10m wave with no back”.

“Unfortunately when the boat gets 30 feet in the air, weighing 28 tonnes there’s no such thing as a soft landing,” he said after reaching Hobart by bus.

The crew tried to continue for an hour after the hit, but feared that a creased cabin top between the mast and canting keel could risk further damage.

They retired into Binalong Bay, on the East Coast, under their own steam.

Thwaites said that while he felt he had an unbeatable lead, he was not as disappointed as last year when he trailed Skandia over the line by 14 minutes after an epic duel over the race’s 628 nautical miles.

“It is not as though we made any bad tactical decisions,” he said.

He was likely to return.

“Every year I say it’s my last time. Yes, I will probably be back.”

THE CASUALTIES SYDNEY TO HOBART

¤KONICA MINOLTA

6am – huge wave damages keel seven nautical miles off Binalong Bay, on Tasmania’s East Coast. 8am – skipper Stewart Thwaites officially retires yacht.

Now moored in Binalong Bay.

¤SKANDIA

2am – skipper Grant Wharington sends out radio distress call after keel malfunction.

9am – crew picked up from life rafts by a police launch about 60 miles east north-east of Eddystone Point near Tasmania’s north-east tip.

Yacht still drifting at sea but not technically abandoned.

¤RAGAMUFFIN

Dismasted by south- westerlies of up to 50 knots off Flinders Island.

¤OVERALL RACE: 54 yachts retired.

MELBOURNE TO HOBART

¤AFFRAYED KNOT

1030am – dismasted 45 nautical miles south of Phillip Island.

¤Five yachts left in the race, with Tevake leading Quetzalcoatl and Yoko.

All expected to seek shelter overnight at either Three Hummock Island or King Island.

MELBOURNE TO LAUNCESTON

¤Race reduced to three boats, with Spirit Silver Edition leading Apollonius and Amaya.

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