Giant sunfish alarm crews |Richard_F||01/09/07 at 13:34:48|richard_f|xx|0||Giant sunfish alarm crews

Amanda Lulham
December 23, 2006

IT'S not his arch-rival, the 98-footer Wild Oats, or even the prospect of unpleasant conditions Skandia skipper Grant Wharington fears ahead of the 62nd Sydney to Hobart - it's fat, blubbery creatures of the deep.

The curse of ocean racers, giant sunfish, strike terror in crews heading south each year with Wharington coming to grief on more than one occasion in the past.

A collision at high speed can cause both injury to sailors and damage to yachts, in particular their rudders and keels, with sunfish, the world's largest known bony fish, basking near the surface and difficult to spot in waves.

"The course to Hobart is literally littered with sunfish," said the skipper of the 98-footer Skandia. "You see them every 10 to 15 minutes out there.

"It's not a matter of if you are going to hit one, it's how hard.

"At night you just have to hope they don't come out."

Last year Skandia hit two sunfish, which can grow to two metres and weigh more than one tonne, during its delivery from Melbourne to Sydney for the race.

Wild Oats, which went on to win the 2005 Sydney to Hobart, also had a run-in with the giant sea creatures in her lead-up to the race with the impact damaging the rudder on the yacht.

The 98-footer also hit another sunfish during her record-breaking run in the Sydney to Hobart.

Along with sunfish, whales, sharks and submerged containers all pose a boat-breaking threat to sailors in this year's race south.

Earlier this month the yacht Black Panther came to an abrupt halt after colliding with an unidentified creature of the deep just off Sydney Heads.

"We don't know if it was a shark or a whale but we were sailing upwind and all of a sudden we came to a sudden stop and we all fell forward quite gently," said tactician Chris Links.

"Then this fin or dorsal or whatever came up and struck the side of the boat and bent the back stanchion and brushed Marcus (Jones, the trimmer, who was on the leeward side of the yacht).

"One of the guys on another boat thought it was a shark trying to come aboard. But if it was a shark it was Jaws. I'm sure it was a whale because it was the size of the boat."

Links said the creature which appeared no worse for the impact then swam away, with the boat coming off second-best with paint stripped off its keel, a graze on the hull and a bent stanchion a testament to the strange incident.,20867,20965343-23218,00.html