Rolex Sydney Hobart Race contender Cougar II is setting a cracking pace tonight in the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania’s 67th annual Maria Island Race off the south-east coast of Tasmania.
Just two hours after the 7.00pm start from Hobart, Tony Lyall’s powerful TP52 was halfway across Storm Bay, spinnaker reaching in the 20-30 knot west-northwesterly breeze, gusting to 35 knots. However, according to OceanTracker, she appeared to be falling away to leeward of the fleet, with Gary Smith’s 45-footer The Fork in the Road almost abeam and well to windward, on track towards the towering cliffs of Cape Raoul and Tasman Island.
The Fork in the Road was reportedly hitting 10.8 knots, a knot faster than Cougar II.
Dead astern came Mike Pritchard’s Beneteau First 45, Audere, closely followed by Jacinta and Brett Cooper’s Beneteau 57 Mistraal, with the big blue-hulled cruising yacht revelled in the strong reaching and running conditions.
Sailing exceptionally well, fifth in the 16 boat fleet, came the MBD36 Whistler, skippered by Jory Linscott and with her complete Sydney Hobart crew aboard. Also enjoying the fresh to strong breeze was the 62-footer Magic Miles, also a cruising yacht.
Cougar II and Whistler were the only two yachts to fly spinnakers on the close reach down the Derwent. Cougar II’s spinnaker reach was short-lived as, soon after the start, Cougar II was clearly overpowered under full mainsail and a huge asymmetric spinnaker.
Helmsman Tony Lyall had to bear away towards the eastern shore of the river to ease the pressure as the crew struggled to hoist a working jib and furl the asymmetric spinnaker. Once under control she powered to windward of the visiting Chinese ice-breaker anchored down river from Hobart and was able to clear the Iron Pot on one leg from the start.
Lyall timed the start to perfection with the crew unfurling the massive headsail right on the line as the starting signal sounded from Castray starting box.
The Bureau of Meteorology issued a gale warning for south-east coastal waters between South-East Cape and Tasman Island for today, with west to south-westerly winds freshening to 35 knots during the afternoon and evening.
However, by the time TasPorts Maria Island Race had started the wild weather on the Derwent had eased, with the westerly dropping to 18-20 knots and seaway flat.
Once the leaders round Tasman Island tonight, probably before midnight, the blast from the west should ease to 15-25 knots, with gusts up to 30 knots. Similar conditions are predicted Saturday morning as they dash north to Maria Island – and there’s a possibility of a nor’easter later in the day.
The seven Sydney Hobart entrants in the fleet are: Tony Lyall’s TP52, Cougar II, Mike Pritchard’s Beneteau First 45, David Creese’s Mat 1245, Obsession, Jacinta and Brett Cooper’s Beneteau 57, Mistraal, Tony Williams’ IMX 38, Martela, while Alan Nelson will skipper the Dynamique 62, Magic Miles, and Jory Linscott will skipper the MBD36, Whistler.
Others in the fleet contesting the Maria Island Race as a qualifier for the Launceston to Hobart Race, including Gary Smith’s Bakewell-White 45, the Fork in the Road, Stewart Geeves’ Young 88, Footloose, and Paul Einoder’s Beneteau Oceanis 34, Off-Piste, and last year’s overall winner on corrected time, Malcolm Cooper’s Snook 32, Kaiulani.
Oceantracker is again providing fleet positions throughout the Maria Island Race on http://oceantracker.net/mx7.html?event=maria2014
– Peter Campbell