Early lead for Hooligan

Windward-leewards begin at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week

Sunday August 21st 2011, Author: Susan Sullivan, Location: Australia

Audi Hamilton Island Race Week’s IRC Class A Grand Prix and B riders and starters had their first day of taxing windward/leeward races in bumpy seas and a brisk 18-20 knot southeasterly trade breeze.

Bob Oatley’s supermaxi Wild Oats XI continued its line honours winning form, spoiling Anthony Bell and Investec Loyal’s chances of getting on the scoreboard with three bullets from three starts. The unblemished run of Marcus Blackmore’s TP52 Hooligan also remains intact with the perfect scorecard on handicap after three races.

The photographers were rubbing their hands and the docks were abuzz this morning when flags started flapping early, indicating a sensational day of wind and clear skies ahead with more breeze forecast for tomorrow and up to 30 knots expected for Tuesday.

Generally the grand prix classes treat Audi Hamilton Island Race Week more seriously, some under strict nightly curfews imposed by professional coaches and morning fitness programs to wake up the muscles and kick start the adrenaline.

Anyone not fully conscious by the time they left Hamilton Island’s marina would have been slapped awake by the first gust and salt spray as the fleet left the island’s protection and headed for open water for three wet and exhilarating W/L races likely to yield the series’ cover shots.

Yesterday’s minor gear breakdowns hurt Bell’s chances of catching the Mark Richards-skippered Wild Oats XI and his luck failed to turn today with his giant spinnaker suddenly breaking free on a downwind run in race two of the series. Bell was forced to stall the Elliott design head to wind, losing time while the crew dragged the waterlogged chute back on deck.

On handicap in race two of the series, Victorian Rob Hanna’s older generation TP52 Shogun threatened to put the clamps on Marcus Blackmore’s newer TP52 Hooligan, but couldn’t quite claim the prized scalp, finishing second by 33 seconds with Loki (Stephen Ainsworth) third. In race three second and third were reversed with Loki’s sharp crew work putting them into second and Shogun into third.

Blackmore has triple world Laser champion, Etchells world champion and ISAF Rolex Sailor of the Year Tom Slingsby calling the shots while Hanna has the clout of NZ ace and multiple round the world yachtsman Stu Bannatyne.

This will be Hanna’s last major regatta with his 2006 built TP, his newer version, currently racing as Matador for the Audi MedCup circuit, is due to arrive in Australia in November and should be prepped by the Rolex Trophy in December.

In the IRC Passage Class B division Darryl Hodginson’s Beneteau 45 Victoire is clubhouse leader after three races, today’s two firsts in race two and three and yesterday’s second putting the rest of the division on notice.

Ian Oatley’s radical RP42 Q retired from the first race of the day citing gear failure and Phil Molony’s Papillon was a Class B division casualty as the heavy seaway took its toll.

Tomorrow the IRC divisions will join the Cruising, Non Spinnaker and Super Multihull divisions for an islands race while the Performance Racing divisions will have their turn on the windward/leeward course area.

The forecast SE 20/25 knot wind will light up the Audi Hamilton Island Race fleet while Tuesday’s expected 20/30 knots will test the strength and endurance of both boats and crew.

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