The powerful Beneteau 45 Balance, skippered by Paul Clitheroe, has hit the front as the leading yachts in the Hempel Paints 37th Gosford to Lord Howe Island Yacht Race tonight sail the final 100 nautical miles of the rugged 414 nautical mile race across the Tasman Sea.
Clitheroe, wellknown as a television financial commentator, looks to have been right on the money when he chose to tack Balance towards Lord Howe this afternoon, gaining a vital break on the fleet.
Balance, from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, is now 10 nautical miles closer to the island than the Queensland yacht Ocean Affinity, skippered by Stewart Lewis. At the 6.05pm ‘sked’ with the fleet this evening, Balance’s position, with 65.2 nautical miles to sail, showed her well to the north of Ocean Affinity, which was 75 nautical miles from the finish.
However, the fleet faces another night tough night at sea. “It’s ugly out there tonight, with 20-30 knot north-easterly winds blowing and most of the boats well below the rhumbline (direct) course to the island,” Lord Howe Island race officer ‘Macca’ Wilson said.
He estimated that if Balance can maintain her boat speed of near 7 knots she should cross the finish line off Lord Island’s coral lagoon just before dawn tomorrow.
Wilson said there had been no further contact with the Lake Macquarie yacht Frantic, skippered by Michael Martin, since a white flare had been sighted, as requested at the midnight safety ‘sked’ last night. Frantic has failed to report in since starting from Broken Bay on Saturday, nor has her satellite tracker been working.
Her white flare was sighted early this morning by another competitor Polaris of Belmont, which this evening reported her position as 166.5 nautical miles south-west of Lord Howe Island. Race officials assume that Frantic has a similar distance to sail, given that Polaris reported the flare sighting as three nautical miles to the north-west of her at 0036 hours this morning.
Progressive calculations of corrected time positions place Balance leading the IRC rating division from Phil Bennett’s King Billy and the veteran Queensland yacht Ray White Spirit of Koomooloo, skippered by Mike Freebairn. Corrected speeds indicate a very close result.
Quetzalcoatl, skippered by Antony Sweetapple leads the PHS division from Polaris of Belmont.
The next position report (‘sked’) with the fleet is scheduled for 7.00am tomorrow, by which time Balance and Ocean Affinity may have finished what has been one of toughest Lord Howe Island Races in recent years. Astern of these two boats, there is a substantial gap to the other nine boats still racing.
By Peter Campbell