THREE yachts ran aground in the Tamar River soon after yesterday morning's start of the Launceston to Hobart yacht race, as did a spectator boat that went to their assistance.
Stephen's 50-footer Fish Frenzy ran aground off George Town as she headed downriver to Low Head. She was able to free herself and continue in the race, quickly overtaking most of the fleet in Bass Strait.
Further up the river, two smaller boats, Stewart Geeves's Footloose and Chris and Anne Hadrill's Pyxis, went aground near Kelso and were stuck on a mudbank until the tide changed and began to flow up the river late in the afternoon.
After five and a half hours they finally were able to float clear about 4pm, and at 4.30pm Pyxis sailed out of the Tamar into Bass Strait, with Footloose about a mile astern. However, they were then more than 20 nautical miles astern of the fleet.
All three yachts are from Hobart clubs although all three skippers have competed in previous Launceston to Hobarts.
Several skippers were confused by a change in the positioning of the marker on Shag Rock, a large reef of solid stone mid-river just north of Beauty Point. ``With no marker showing the edge of the rock, several sailed over the rock and were lucky not to come to a crunching halt,'' a Tamar Yacht Club member commented.
The 26 yachts in the 285 nautical mile Launceston to Hobart race set sail in the lightest of breezes with the 10am start chosen to give the fleet an ebbing tide.
Race officials believe the lack of wind and the strong ebbing tide swept the three yachts into shallow water, with the helmsman on each boat unable to control its direction.
``They actually sailed inside the channel marker on an outgoing tide,'' said spectator John Campbell.
Late yesterday afternoon most of the fleet were sailing across Anderson Bay and into Ringarooma Bay on the North-East coast, with Gary Smith's 45-footer The Fork in the Road holding a relatively narrow lead. Mike Pritchard's Beneteau First 45, Audagrère, sailing its first L2H race, was in second place, just ahead of Fish Frenzy, followed by Jeff Cordell's Host Plus Executive, winner of the inaugural Launceston to Hobart race.
Then came John Mills's Nexedge and The Protagonist, skippered by Stuart Denny.
The leading Northern boat, Richard Fisher's Believe, a near sister ship to Audere, was not recorded by the Derwent Sailing Sailing Squadron's race tracker at that stage.
The first yachts in the race are not expected to finish in Hobart until tomorrow, with a strong south-westerly front forecast to hit the race course late today or early tomorrow.