Loki shows her potential

Stephen Ainsworth's new mini maxi on top on handicap after the first day of the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge

Tuesday December 16th 2008, Author: Jennifer Crooks, Location: United Kingdom
Today’s SOLAS Big Boat Challenge broke the bad weather spell of the past few years with Sydney turning on a postcard day for the biggest racing yachts gathered in Sydney for this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Like the finish of the last three Rolex Sydney Hobarts, Wild Oats XI’s awesome display of power sailing saw her cruise to the finish line off the Opera House unchallenged and accompanied by a flotilla of spectator craft out enjoying the summer sunshine.

With owner Bob Oatley on board and skipper Mark Richards at the helm, the 30m maxi sailed a faultless two laps of Sydney Harbour to claim the line honours trifecta in this event, the 14th edition of the annual maxi yacht spectacular.

“It is a handful sailing this big boat around the tight course, it requires a lot of work,” admitted Richards this afternoon. “Our focus is the Rolex Sydney Hobart, we’ve got a few more training days, it’s all offshore straight line sailing."

On handicap, the day belonged to Stephen Ainsworth’s brand new Reichel/Pugh 63 Loki which took its first scalp on corrected time, a remarkable result for a boat that only tasted salt water for the first time last Thursday following a quick build to make the Rolex Sydney Hobart start in 10 days time.

“It’s just been a great day all-round for us. The crew has been toiling 24/7 to get the boat up to speed,” said Loki helmsman Cameron Miles today. Tomorrow the crew will set off for their 24 hour qualifying sail before returning to contest some of the Rolex Trophy Rating Series races.

On an adrenaline-charged start line north of Shark Island, the fleet started cleanly at 12.30pm in a 10 knot nor’easter and flat water, heading northwards before the fleet of 17 hoisted kites for the first of two long spinnaker rides down the Harbour to Fort Denison.

Grant Wharington’s 30m Melbourne maxi Skandia jumped out of the starting blocks with pace and stayed in touch with the same sized Wild Oats XI up the first windward leg as the two led the fleet past the workers on the Wedding Cake navigational mark who had downed tools to enjoy one of the best views in Sydney.

With news helicopters buzzing and ferries passing through the fleet, in the building nor’easterly sea breeze Wild Oats XI stretched away to a convincing lead, leaving a great tussle amongst the 60 footers including Loki, the brand new Limit, Wild Oats XI and Steven David’s Wild Joe with Australian America’s Cup sailor Adam Beashel on the helm.

While the older Skandia trailed Wild Oats XI around the course to finish second on line honours, on handicap it was a different story. Wharington has been spruiking about his chances for handicap honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart and today he only missed out on the handicap win by 13 seconds while Wild Oats XI, which is gearing up for line honours in the ocean classic, finished well down on the pointscore.

“I think we’ll be a force to be reckoned with on IRC,” said Wharington, looking forward to next week’s Rolex Sydney Hobart start.

Third on handicap today was another brand new Reichel/Pugh, Alan Brierty’s Limit.

The Mark Bradford-skippered Queensland 66-footer Black Jack enjoying its second Sydney outing and showed great potential today. With its rock star crew including Volvo Ocean Race and Olympic sailors pulling the strings, the black pocket rocket, named after motor racing legend Sir Jack Brabham, darted around the harbour effortlessly to finish third over the line.

Martin James’ Pirelli finished with the PHS Division win.

Full results here

More photos on the following pages...

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