Sailing: Christmas hit for Slade with sound start in Sydney

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The Independent Online

Britain's Mike Slade, in his new 100ft Leopard, was lying second last night after a near perfect start to the annual Sydney to Hobart Race. Nine miles head of him was the favourite, Bob Oatley's Wild Oats, with Grant Wharington's Skandia four miles behind him as favourable winds pushed the 82-boat fleet fast down the south-east coast of Australia into Bass Strait.

But, as Slade began to slow, if there were doubts about the likelihood of a new record time, there was relief on the 10th anniversary of the race which cost six lives, including that of British Olympian Glyn Charles, that the conditions were forecast to remain much more benign.

Too benign if the top weather forecaster Roger "Clouds" Badham is correct. The America's Cup and Volvo Race expert expects the strong northerly winds to ease and the fleet to slow significantly the last few miles into the Derwent River can be notoriously fickle to keep Wild Oats' 42hr 40min record, set in 2005, intact.

As Jean-Pierre Dick and Damian Foxall swept through the Cook Strait at the head of the Barcelona two-handed non-stop round the world race, Britain's Alex Thomson and his Australian co-skipper, Andrew Cape, announced that they would be pulling into Wellington for repairs to their rudder. They will take the opportunity to make other repairs while they have to wait for a mandatory 48 hours, the penalty for accepting outside assistance some of the Hugo Boss shore team has flown in to do the work rather than doing all the jobs themselves.

The second penalty will be a stretch in the gap they were fighting to close in second place, from 180 miles to perhaps nearly 700 miles, as their rivals head across the Pacific, north of a safety gate to avoid icebergs, and then down to Cape Horn.

Thomson is confident that his new open 60, in which he intends to compete in the Vende Globe single-handed round the world race next November, is fast enough to catch the Franco-Irish pair ahead of him, especially if they, too, suffer any damage.

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