Crichton makes early running

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The Independent Online

Heavy weather warnings were again in force for the Sydney to Hobart race yesterday, contrasting with the hot and sunny conditions which greeted the 82 starters leaving Sydney.

Heavy weather warnings were again in force for the Sydney to Hobart race yesterday, contrasting with the hot and sunny conditions which greeted the 82 starters leaving Sydney.

The north-westerly which was pushing the fleet fast south along the coast under spinnaker was expected to swing into the South-West and strengthen to gale force, turning a pleasant downwind run into a struggle. The biting cold of the new wind blowing up from Antarctica was also predicted to be bitterly cold and there were warnings to take measures against hypothermia.

Leading the fleet was Neville Crichton's new 80-footer Shockwave with a strong contingent of Team New Zealand's America's Cup defence crew on board. But he had less than half a mile on Grant Wharington's Wild Thing, followed closely by Sean Langman in Xena and Ludde Ingvall in Nocorette.

Pressing these four leaders was a quintet of VO 60s, the class of water-ballasted racing machines which will contest the Volvo Ocean Race starting on 23 September in the Solent.

First of them, with Lachlan Murdoch aboard, was NewsCorp, skippered by Britain's Jez Fanstone, marginally ahead of Kevin Shoebridge in Tyco. Roy Heiner and Mark Rudiger were third in Assa Abloy with John Kostecki fourth on Illbruck. The fifth, Nokia, is not a syndicate contender for the Volvo, nor did Stefan Myraft expect to better the record of 43 hours and 48 minutes he set for the 630 miles last year.

Thierry Dubois became the seventh of the original 24 starters to retire from the Vendée Globe round the world race. The singlehander, who was rescued by the Australians in the 1996-97 race, is having power problems which could result in him losing his links with the outside world as well as the running systems on his 60-foot yacht.

"My intuition tells me it would not be at all prudent to head into the Pacific Ocean, the longest and most difficult stretch of water, with the boat in this condition," he said. "I could be without the means to communicate, or receive weather information, and be without an autopilot. I do not think this would be very sensible. So I am heading for New Zealand."

Dubois said he had been fighting with his autopilots after they were affected by the magnetic South pole. This had led to some potentially severe wipe-outs and he was having to spend long hours helming by hand. He is currently about 1,200 miles from the coast of New Zealand's South Island.

Mike Golding is having to call on his reserves of willpower and energy to keep going. He has little chance of winning after losing eight days to the rest of the field following the dismasting of Team Group 4 less than eight hours into the race. He is also behind schedule to break the record of 105 days and 18 hours set by Christophe Augin. But he has been averaging 20 knots since repairing his headsail gear in the Kerguelen Islands, and is in continuing strong winds.

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