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Eyes turn to Syd-Hob handicap hopefuls

Ichi Ban’s quest for elusive back-to-back handicap Sydney to Hobart victories has been knocked on the head by fellow NSW yacht Celestial.

Matt Allen’s TP52 Ichi Ban, which won overall honours in 2017 and 2019, was gunning for consecutive wins, something last achieved 57 years ago.

After a gruelling three days and three hours at sea, Ichi Ban crossed the River Derwent finish line on Tuesday at 4.45pm (AEDT), just 17 minutes ahead of Celestial.

But on corrected handicap times, Celestial was ruled to be three minutes better, placing the yacht one position above Ichi Ban on the leaderboard.

While their times are locked in, the final standings and the overall Tattersall Cup winner is a long way from sorted with more than 40 boats still at sea.

There could also be a curve ball with Ichi Ban arriving at Constitution Dock with a red protest flag raised. However, skipper and owner Allen indicated no protest had been lodged.

“We haven’t decided what we’re going to do at this stage,” he said.

“We’ve been racing for the last three days, we haven’t even had a thought about what we’re going to do or not do.”

Sam Haynes, owner and skipper of Celestial, said his yacht and Ichi Ban had been neck-and-neck on the water since early on Tuesday.

“I’ve been trying for a long time (to win overall honours). I came third one year. This is potentially going to be better but there are still a lot of boats out there racing,” he said.

“By no means are we going to start patting ourselves on the back. But we’ve got a chance, I’m happy with the race.”

Tasmanian boat Wonderland became the 76th edition’s 37th retirement on Wednesday after the starting fleet of 88 copped rough conditions across the first two days.

Speaking before corrected times were confirmed, Allen, a Sydney to Hobart veteran, said he had to make more tricky decisions this year than in any race he could remember.

“They were coming thick and fast. It probably reminded me, I’m showing my age, of 1981 where there were a lot of tactical decisions with pretty fickle breezes,” he said.

“We were in quite a lot of current that first night as well. The current is pushing you down and making the waves stand up, that’s launching the boat into the air and coming down hard.”

The rugged conditions also made life tough going for the three leading supermaxis – Black Jack claimed line honours at 1.37am on Wednesday with the slowest winning time since 2004.

Just seven yachts have finished, with a host expected to reach Hobart on Thursday.

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