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Smaller yachts chasing handicap honours

The owner of a two-time Sydney to Hobart overall winner has pinpointed a day of reckoning in the battle for handicap victory in this year’s race.

While supermaxis LawConnect, SHK Scallywag and Black Jack vie for line honours, the smaller boats will target overall honours.

Crews face potentially strong southerlies on the first night of the race on Boxing Day, with transitions to lighter air and some holes without wind expected to lead to a tactical race.

“Its not going to be an easy race and I think it’s going to be won on the 28th (of December), that’s the day it’s going to be decided,” said Craig Neil, whose TP52 Quest took overall honours in 2008 and again as Balance, seven years later.

“You’ve really got to play the percentages game and you’ve got to be very careful and mindful of that.”

His boat is among the pre-race handicap favourites along with TP52 rivals, Ichi Ban and Gweilo.

Race veteran Michael Spies, who will skipper 54-foot Queensland boat Maritimo, stressed the importance of getting decisions right on the first night and hoped potential southerlies wouldn’t put the fleet in survival mode.

“You never win the race on the first night, but you can certainly lose it,” said Spies, who is doing the race for the 44th time.

“Its a solid forecast but I wouldn’t say survival, hopefully it doesn’t get to that.”

Another race stalwart, Ed Psaltis, is always wary of the first 12 hours.

“Even the old guys don’t get their sea legs for the first 12 hours. Mistakes can happen,” said Psaltis, skipper of the overall winner of the 1998 race in which six people died.

“Often the injuries are happening down below often more than up on the deck, because you can’t see the waves coming and you get thrown across the boat.

“We had a guy break his shoulder one year, breaking ribs another year, so that first night is a bit of a bogey.”

Both Spies and Psaltis have injected some youth into their crews as they look to nurture the next generation of sailors.

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