Sailing: Brindabella edges Exile in tight finish

The Australian maxi Brindabella won the Sydney-to-Hobart race yesterday in a cat and mouse finish with the Hong Kong pocket maxi Exile, breaking the four-year "Hobart hoodoo" of its owner and skipper, George Snow.

Brindabella, the race favourite, took line honours on Hobart's Derwent River just nine minutes ahead of Exile, after a tactical duel up the river in light fickle winds and an outgoing tide.

Brindabella took two days, 23 hours, 22 minutes and 48 seconds for the 630-nautical mile race, after duelling with Exile for almost the entire race along Australia's east coast. The two boats were never more than one nautical mile apart for most of the last 200 miles of the race. "It was one of the most exciting yacht race finishes in the world," said Snow, who felt confident of winning only in the last five minutes.

Brindabella's victory ends a series of disappointing campaigns for Snow, a Canberra property developer. In the past four years, Brindabella has twice finished second and twice been forced to retire with damage to gear.

"It's great - no more Hobart hoodoos," an exuberant Snow said after docking at Hobart's Constitution Dock.

Snow led the initial 115-strong fleet out of Sydney Harbour last Friday, followed closely by the Swedish maxi, Nicorette, and Exile. But Nicorette was forced to retire with structural damage.

Warwick Miller, an expatriate Australian businessman, made a bad start on Exile but overhauled her bigger rivals on Saturday as they sailed into strong southerly winds. By Sunday, Brindabella had regained the lead under spinnaker and the two boats began a match race off the coast of Tasmania, with the rest of the fleet off the pace.