Wild Oats XI, skippered by Mark Richards, chasing down Alfa Romeo's lead.
Wild Oats XI, skippered by Mark Richards, chasing down Alfa Romeo's lead. ROLEX/Daniel Forster

Alfa Romeo holds onto Sydney Hobart lead

DESPITE a lead of about 14 nautical miles over four-time line honours winner Wild Oats Xl, and only 70 nautical miles to go to the finish of this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Alfa Romeo skipper Neville Crichton is leaving nothing to chance.

"We will cover them whenever we possibly can," Crichton told the Rolex media centre by satellite phone as the super maxi closed to 30 nautical miles on Tasman Island mid-afternoon on Monday.

"We won't let her go out on a flyer without us being there," the New Zealand businessman said.

In effect, Crichton is warning Wild Oats XI that it will be a match race to Hobart from this point on.

Watch highlights and live coverage of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race from the deck of The Whitsunday Sailing Club’s Telcoinabox Merit.

If the Mark Richards skippered Wild Oats XI changes her course, or strategy, Alfa Romeo will cover Bob Oatley's yacht, but from the front.

In sailing terms, it means that Crichton will seek to ensure that the two recently modified yachts, which are virtually identical, stay in the same weather and wind pattern.

Crichton said he was expecting the wind to move to the south at Tasman Island, which the Hobart weather bureau has just confirmed.

Forecaster Malcolm Downing said the leading boats would face a south-westerly of 10 knots, gusting to 18, at Tasman and the wind would then veer to the west and north-west as they crossed Storm Bay and into the Derwent River, where the north-westerly would ease from 15-20 knots to 10-15, but, importantly, the wind would stay in.

"This race has been much more difficult than a windy race, there's so much more to think about. The winds have been so variable and so up and down," said Crichton, who would not be drawn on what time he would finish the race and whether he would be first over the line.

As Crichton was speaking, Wild Oats XI was closing the gap in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's annual 628 nautical mile race.

The Rolex race site tracker has Alfa Romeo possibly finishing at approximately 10 o'clock this evening.

During the day, the British super maxi ICAP Leopard, owned and skippered by Mike Slade, conceded second place to Wild Oats Xl and is now about 28 nautical miles off the lead and sailing east of the rhumbline searching for more breeze.

Fleet positions are available via Yacht Tracker at: www.rolexsydneyhobart.com.

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