64 knot gust hits L2H leaders at Tasman Island

A storm force wind gust of 64 knots at Tasman Island in the early hours of today almost ended the Launceston to Hobart ocean race for leaders The Fork in the Road and Tilt.

Extraordinarily, the two ocean racing yachts were just two boat lengths apart when the front hit at the peak of an epic race in which the lead changed at least ten times.

Through good seamanship, both yachts survived to finish first and second across the line in the 285 nautical mile race, but no so Rad, then third in fleet, which was dismasted.

The Fork in the Road, a Bakewell-White 45 skippered by Gary Smith, finished late this morning with the north-westerly wind still gusting to 45 knots on the River Derwent.

Tilt, Peter and Catherine Cretan’s Marten 49, finished 14 minutes later under a number 3 jib, their mainsail ripped to pieces by the vicious wind gusts at Tasman Island.

“We got hit by a 64 knot gust howling out of the narrow channel between the high cliffs of Tasman Island and the Tasman Peninsula, and but for helmsman Steve Walker pulling away we would have got flattened,” Smith said after skippering The Fork in the Road to its seventh L2H line honours victory.

Peter Cretan’s report was even more dramatic. “The gust that hit us was 55 knots….it flattened the boat…the masthead was in the water and we lost our wind instruments,” he recalled.

“We went on to sail across Storm Bay under a Code 0 and up the river with a number three headsail.

“It was a epic sail from start to finish…the lead changed at least 10 times…we had a tacking duel down the Mercury Passage inside Maria Island and then a gybing duel across Marion Bay,” added Cretan, elated with being able to finish the Riversdale Estate Wines L2H race, even without a mainsail.

The Fork in the Road sailed the course from Low Head to Hobart in 2 days 1 hour 28 minutes and 36 seconds, Tilt’s elapsed time was 2 days 1 hour, 42 minutes and 40 seconds.

Filepro finished third in the afternoon, followed by Philosopher and Heatwave. The next boats expected late this afternoon and this evening were Zephyr, Prion, Helsal V, Sagittarius, Crescendo, Ultimate Challenge and As Good As It Gets.

Eight yachts have retired from the race, include Rad, Brent McKay’s Radford 351 which was dismasted off Tasman Island.

Other retirements have been Whirlwind, Talofa, Phase Three, Mischief, Illusion, B&G Advantage and Avenger.

Handicap honours won’t be known until all the fleet finish overnight, but the computer predictions place Shaun Tiedemann’s Sydney 36cr Philosopher provisionally first on IRC and Paul Einoder’s Beneteau Oceanis 34 Off-Piste first on AMS scoring.

Early this evening, the three tailenders, Off-Piste, Footloose and Lawless were sailing across Storm Bay in much more moderate conditions.

– Peter Campbell

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