Earl Williams, representing Alfa Romeo, scored the first “psychological” blow of the Rolex Sydney Hobart when he defeated representatives of six of the maxi syndicates in today's “Small Boat Challenge” held on the pond at the CYCA. The “small boats” are a fleet of radio-controlled yachts belonging to Neville Chrichton, the owner of Alfa Romeo.
In light and fluky conditions, the assembled owners, skippers and navigators representing Alfa Romeo, Wild Oats, Lahana, ICAP Leopard, Investec Loyal, Rapture and Yuu Zoo (formerly Tokaloch) had lots of fun racing the boats up and down the pond in front of the TV cameras.
In the first heat, Earl Williams showed that he had played with these “toys” before, being second across the start line behind Ludde Ingvall (Yuu Zoo) and leading round every mark to the finish. Ingvold was second with Anthony Bell (Investec Loyal) third.
By the time the second race started, Mark Richards the skipper of Wild Oats XI had worked out the controls and the fluky winds. Picking the left hand side of the course where the pressure was greater, he made his move on the final beat to the finish line, crossing ahead of Bell and Williams.
However in the third and last race, after a fast-starting Loyal on starboard was taken out by Peter Millard (Lahana), Williams held on to win from Richards and Bell.
The skippers all appeared to be having fun, but the competitive urges were definitely coming to the fore. Mark Richards commented afterwards that the good thing about racing the RC yachts was you could “elbow each other coming round the mark”, something he said they couldn't do tomorrow when the SOLAS Big Boat Chellenge gets underway on Sydney Harbour.
– Roger McMillan