Eyeing up the competition

Rolex Trophy Series for the IRC rated big boats with Hobart pretensions

Wednesday December 14th 2005, Author: Nicole Browne, Location: United Kingdom
Some of the most serious contenders for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race are lining up against each other for some intense round-the-cans competition in the Rolex Trophy Ratings Series which begins in Sydney on Thursday 15 December.

More than 20 yachts of various sizes and configurations will be competing under the IRC handicap system, in a series of windward/leeward races outside Sydney Heads over the next four days. Some are using the regatta as a tune-up for the 'main event', the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race which departs Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day. The next four days will certainly help establish a pecking order of possible favourites for success in the offshore classic. But others are very much focussed on winning the Rating Series as an event in its own right. Ray Roberts, owner of DK46 Quantum Racing, falls into the latter category. Newly returned from winning the King's Cup in Malaysia, Roberts prefers the cut and thrust of short-course racing.

"We'll be competing hard in the Rolex Sydney Hobart," said Roberts, "and we think we have a good chance at going for handicap honours there. But the type of racing we'll be doing this week in the Ratings Series is a better test of all-round sailing skills. It's much more tactical." Key to Roberts's crew is Olympic bronze medallist Michael Blackburn, who helped Martin and Lisa Hill's Estate Master to a dominant victory in the Sydney 38s just a few days ago in the Rolex Trophy One Design Series.

There are many other top quality teams for Roberts to watch out for, notably Stephen Ainsworth's new Reichel/Pugh 60 Loki. But while in one respect Quantum Racing and Loki may view each other as rivals, in another they happen to be team mates. These two yachts will be representing Australia in the Rolex Challenge international teams series, which is decided on the teams' combined results from the Ratings Series and the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

In addition to the Australian team, there will be two teams representing New South Wales and two for Victoria. The New South Wales Red team comprises Wild Oats XI, Bob Oatley's newly launched 30m Reichel/Pugh 98 and Roger Hickman's Farr 43 Wild Rose, which was Oatley's original Wild Oats from more than 20 years ago.

However, Oatley's main focus will be on gauging his performance against near-sistership Alfa Romeo, owned by Neville Crichton. The opening salvo of this duel between the 'Super Maxis' took place on Tuesday in the Big Boat Trophy, when Crichton claimed first blood by just 13 seconds from Wild Oats XI in a close tussle around the Harbour. But considering that Oatley had launched his yacht just 10 days previously, compared with four months of work-up time for Alfa Romeo, the crew of Wild Oats XI had every reason to be satisfied with second place.

For helmsman Mark Richards, he makes no secret of the fact that the four days of competition in the Ratings Series are all about working up the highly-complex boat in time for an assault on the race to Hobart less than two weeks from now. "We'll be using the regatta to learn about the boat, try out different sails, and get our crew work sorted out." Of course, a competitive sailor is always out to win wherever possible, so despite Wild Oats ' lack of preparation time, you can be sure they'll still be doing everything in their power to beat Alfa Romeo and the other two Maxis entered in the Ratings Series, Konica Minolta and AAPT.

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