Handicap field narrows in Hobart race

Only a handful of boats are in the running to take out handicap honours in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

While the overall title will not be decided until Tuesday, rough conditions including gusting winds are proving to be the more pressing issue for competitors yet to finish the 628-nautical mile journey.

At Tasman Island, the point where boats turn from the state’s east coast toward Hobart, cruiser Mistraal reported winds of 40 knots late on Monday afternoon.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts northwesterly winds of up to 30 knots and seas to 2.5 metres in the same area overnight on Monday.

Throughout day four of the race the trying conditions started to show as boats limped across the finish line and others were forced to withdraw.

A front runner for the corrected time category, NSW yacht Wild Rose endured a scare which left the crew fearing they might not be able to continue.

The 43-footer, owned and skippered by race veteran Roger Hickman, struck trouble with a broken steering cable early on Monday as she battled strong, gusting winds east of Tasmania.

“It was looking pretty dicey,” said navigator Jenifer Wells.

“We got the emergency tiller up and got the kite (spinnaker) down in 30 knot (winds) and repaired the cable and were back on track in 30 minutes.”

While the weather troubled some entrants, it was the wildlife that proved problematic for others.

The Tony Kirby-skippered Patrice got an eight-foot shark stuck on its rudder and had to take evasive action to shake the unwanted visitor.

“He came off and swam away,” Kirby said, but not before causing some steering problems.

A sun fish is blamed by the crew of Onesails Racing for a violent jolt in the night, skipper Ray Roberts said.

“We broke one of our rudders … and the boat went into a wild jibe and we laid it flat in the ocean and got a lot of water on board,” he said.

The 55-footer was nursed across the line to finish 10th.

With the trail blazer not expected to reach Hobart until Wednesday, the handicap field is narrowing.

Front runners include 29-year-old Wild Rose, which finished at about 8pm (AEDT) Monday within the required handicap time.

Also in contention is Tasmanian boat Maluka of Kermandie, the smallest and oldest of the fleet – measuring 30 feet and built in 1932.

It is not due until Tuesday morning.

An overall win for skipper Sean Langman’s local timber yacht and its crew of five would be a result for the romantics in the Sydney to Hobart’s 70th year.

Veteran supermaxi Wild Oats XI on Sunday took out a record eighth line honours in the blue water classic, holding out newcomer, American Comanche.

Friday’s starting field of 117 has been reduced to 105 through withdrawals, all but one of which are due to damage.

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