Murdoch at helm for 'hell on high water'

SAILING
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The Independent Online
Rupert Murdoch will be all at sea next month, but business adversaries should not start thinking that one of the world's most eminent captains of industry is about to let his hand slip from the tiller.

City-based sharks waiting to dismember Murdoch's empire will have to circle a while longer, but sightings of strange submersibles in the Tasman Sea will be readily explained by the fact that the media tycoon has signed on as crew for one of the toughest, ocean yacht races, which goes under the nickname "Hell on High Water".

The 630 nautical mile Sydney-to-Hobart race will start on Boxing Day with BSkyB's owner and sea dog publisher of the Times and the Sun aboard the 23.7m (78ft) carbon-fibre sloop Sayonara, owned by his friend Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle Computers of the United States.

For a man who never likes to lose, Murdoch's boat is the joint race favourite with the Australian maxi yacht, Brindabella.

The Sidney-Hobart has a reputation for extremes of seas and weather, with the winds funnelling through the Bass Straits a particular danger. Two sailors have died in the race's 50-year history and last year's event was notable for the survival of a crew member who spent 16 hours in the water after being washed overboard.

Murdoch is also noted for his durability and the News Corporation chairman is, in any case, no landlubber, having skippered his own yacht, the timber ketch Ilina, four times in the race in the 1960s, finishing second across the line in 1964. He has also sailed in several Sydney-to-Brisbane and Brisbane-to-Gladstone races along the eastern coast of Australia and cruised the Whitsunday Islands on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

To be first across the line is not the only target for Murdoch. Also up for grabs is the elusive race record of two days, 14 hours, 36 minutes and 56 seconds set in 1975. Get that in the bag and the Sun will be flagging "Gotcha" headlines again.

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