Sailing: Wharington takes to rafts as winds hit Hobart race

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The Independent Online

Grant Wharington and the 15 crew members of his 98-foot Skandia were safe in Hobart last night but "lucky to be alive" after transferring to two life-rafts, as their super-maxi wallowed upside-down in rough seas, 80 miles off Tasmania.

Half of the 116 Boxing Day starters in the 630-mile Sydney-to-Hobart classic have retired as strong winds from the south-east and vicious seas have pounded the fleet. Wharington was leading when the hydraulic mechanism which controls his canting keel - it is swung from side to side to help keep the yacht upright - jammed.

The crew immediately dropped the sails and began to motor downwind but, the keel having been thrown off a large wave, then started swinging from side to side and trying to "chop through the hull".

The decision to take to the life-rafts was followed by the opportunity to be picked up by the police patrol boat Van Diemen, which took the crew to Lady Barron on Flinders Island, from where they flew by light aircraft to Hobart.

The keel subsequently broke off and the yacht capsized, and last night attempts were being made firstly to salvage the hull and then determine what had caused the structural failure.

Wharington's New Zealand rival Stewart Thwaites was also forced out of the race when his Konica Minolta was damaged falling off a wave.

With the America's Cup helmsman Gavin Brady, they sought shelter in Binnalong Bay and made the last few miles to Hobart by bus.

That left Ludde Ingvall's Nicorette to pick up line honours for being first up the Derwent River.