THE Sydney to Hobart yacht race is rarely short of drama, but this year the controversy began even before the start in Sydney Harbour yesterday.
Grant Wharington, the owner-skipper of supermaxi Wild Thing, had the wind taken out of his sails when he was told by officials his boat was unable to take it place in the field because the necessary paperwork spelling out recent changes to the vessel's configuration had not been lodged in time.
Wharington was furious, saying, "I don't know if there is any kind of conspiracy going on, but unfortunately this particular race director (Tim Cox) seems to be a serial offender of trying to get big boats out of the race."
That left fellow supermaxis Wild Oats XI, Ragamuffin-Loyal and Lahana as the boats to beat.
Ragamuffin Loyal almost cost itself any chance of winning by jumping the gun, but officials decided against what would have been a costly recall after a review showed they had not followed correct procedures.
By the time the boats left Sydney Heads, Wild Oats XI had opened a significant lead, the crew working like clockwork under skipper Mark Richards.
A northerly wind change has been forecast today which would assist the fleet, although it may not be strong enough or last long enough to threaten the race record.
While Wild Oats XI looks unbeatable in the race for line honours, a great start saw Queensland 66-foot Reichel Pugh class yacht Black Jack put itself right in contention for the coveted handicap honours.