Richards out to break race record

By GREG WHITE

AFTER five last minute withdrawals just before midday yesterday, a fleet of 55 boats began the 226 nautical mile trip northward in the 26th annual Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race. Most attention focused on Sydney-Hobart winner Wild Oats XI and race media director Damian Devine said an attempt on the race record was firmly in the mind of skipper Mark Richards.

"I was on board with Mark and owner Bob Oatley just before they sailed and both believe they can crack the time they set in 2003," he said.

"Wild Oats X arrived that year in 18 hours 29 minutes 14 seconds so I'd be keeping watch for a sail to appear from down the coast, anytime from sunrise."

Disappointingly, one of the race favourites, Leslie Green's 60-footer Ginger, was forced out of the race hours before the start. The race began with a gusty east north-easter at 15/20 knots with Paul Clitheroe's Balance winning the race to the open sea.

"Balance made a very good start with Paul tacking to starboard past the first point at Box Head," Devine said.

"Wild Oats XI made a clean start before taking a port tack heading to sea. As we expected the fleet began to split fairly evenly between the two boats on the way out."

Devine doesn't expect any significant changes to weather patterns over the next few hours.

"It should be north-easters all the way for a fast trip," he said.



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