Sailing: Ten missing as storm hits Sydney-Hobart

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A FULL-SCALE search was underway yesterday for a missing yacht with nine crew, and a crewman who was washed overboard from another yacht, as storm force winds whipped the Bass Strait into its malevolent worst while the Telstra Sydney to Hobart race fleet was making the crossing. Questions were already being asked in both Sydney and Canberra about the wisdom of starting the race with such storms forecast.

A message from the 54-year-old yacht Winston Churchill said it was taking water badly and the crew was preparing life rafts. The radio relay vessel Young Endeavour, a brigantine given by Britain to mark Australia's 200th anniversary celebrations, went to the position given by the yacht's owner, Stephen Stanley, but found nothing.

Three Australian Navy helicopters also found nothing during an intensive, night-long search and they were due to be joined at first light by fixed wing RAAF Orions.

In a second operation, a Sea King helicopter was using night vision and heat seeking equipment to look for a crewman washed overboard from the 43-foot Sword of Orion as the bad weather forced at least 37 of the 115 Boxing Day starters to retire in the first 24 hours.

All shipping in the area had been alerted and a Royal Australian Navy frigate, HMAS Newcastle, was waiting for daylight to join in the search for the man, who was lost from the Rob Kotag-skippered yacht when it was dismasted. Injuries to other crew included a broken leg.

Earlier an American, John Campbell, had been winched out of the water 19 miles south of Gabo Island. He was rescued, suffering from hypothermia after 40 minutes in the water. The yacht, Kingurra, had been rolled in 15 to 20 foot waves whipped up by winds gusting up to 50 knots. In another helicopter operation, the entire crew of 12 was lifted off James Hallion's Stand Aside.

At the front of those battling on, Larry Ellison, who runs an American computer software company, was on course to set a record in his 80-foot maxi Sayonara. With America's Cup skipper Chris Dickson flown in from his honeymoon to take charge, the 1995 race's fastest performer was nearly four hours ahead of schedule at the halfway mark to beat the race record of 2days 14 hr 7min 10sec, set in 1996 by Hasso Plattner's Morning Glory.

The wind strength was easing, which would not only bring some relief to those struggling but also allow Sayonara to power back up to the 14- knot average it had been achieving in the early stages.