Sailing: Wild Oats makes hay to leave Oatley close to historic hat-trick

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The Independent Online

As the clock ticked down on any hopes of a new record time for the Sydney to Hobart Race, the yacht which set the target of 42hr 40min 10sec in 2005, Bob Oatley's 100ft Wild Oats XI, was set to equal another last night by posting a hat-trick of wins, the first to do that since the late 1940s and only the second in the 63-year history of the race.

That meant little hope, also, for Britain's Mike Slade to add a first across the line win in the southern hemisphere to his feat in the Fastnet Race on his new 100ft Leopard on its first serious outing. He was 24 miles behind Wild Oats, but 20 ahead of the third-placed Grant Wharington in Skandia.

After a fast initial 24 hours the wind, as predicted, swung from a favourable fresh northerly to a much weaker south-westerly, leaving the big boats gasping for power if records were to be broken.

On the other side of the Tasman Sea, Jean-Pierre Dick and Damian Foxall were marching away at the head of the five remaining competitors in the Barcelona two-handed round the world race.

After going through the scoring gate in the Cook Strait between the north and south islands of New Zealand, Britain's Alex Thomson, and Australian co-skipper Andrew Cape, peeled off the racetrack and headed for Wellington for essential repairs, particularly to both rudders.

They hope to have Hugo Boss back on track as soon as the 48-hour mandatory penalty for using outside assistance is complete, the shore crew having been flown in to help.

Also heading to New Zealand for repairs to a damaged keel are Dominique Wavre and Michele Paret but making much slower progress and out of the race were Roland Joudain and Jean-Luc Nelias. Their dismasted Veolia had 500 miles, over maybe five days, to run to Fremantle, Australia.

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