Oats heads for treble

Wild Oats v ICAP Leopard show-down expected in this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart race

Tuesday November 13th 2007, Author: Lisa Ratcliff, Location: Australasia
The 63rd Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was officially launched today, with 90 yachts ranging from 10 metres to 30 metres intending to line up on Sydney Harbour for the traditional Boxing Day start this year.

The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia has received an increased number of international entries this year, with nine yachts representing four countries including the first ever Mexican entry ( Iataia) and six boats from the UK. Six Australian states and the ACT will be represented, including four boats making the trip from Western Australia.

Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI could become only the second yacht in the history of the race to take line honours over three consecutive years. The treble was last achieved by Claude Plowman’s Morna in 1946, 1947 and 1948. With a line honours win, a record breaking run and the overall trophy in 2005 and line honours again in 2006, getting to Hobart first in 2007 would confirm Wild Oats’ place as one of the legends of this internationally-renowned ocean race.

However, Wild Oats XI will face stiff competition from fellow Australian entry Skandia, UK maxi ICAP Leopard and New Zealand’s Maximus, which is returning with modifications to challenge Bass Strait once again after being dismasted in the early hours of the first morning of the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart.

“It will be great to see a bit of friendly rivalry between Australia, New Zealand and the UK on the water,” said Matt Allen, Commodore of the CYCA and skipper of entrant Ichi Ban. “These boats and their crews are among the best in the world so it will make for a very interesting race this year.”

Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards played down expectations as usual, focusing his attention on getting the maxi ready to race again after it lost its mast during the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Porto Cervo in early September. The boat is currently undergoing minor repairs in Sydney before being fitted with a new mast and rigging, and is expected to be re-launched just before the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on Tuesday 11 December.

“We’re approaching this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart like any other - get the new mast in, prepare the boat for Bass Strait after the Mediterranean racing season, test the new gear and the rest will depend on the weather,” said Richards. “You can’t assume anything in this race - we saw that last year when Maximus and ABN AMRO both lost their masts.

“In 2005 and 2006 we were optimised to win the Tattersall’s Cup but this year we’ll be fully turbo charged for line honours. To match Morna’s treble would be a great achievement and a real honour, but we’ve got to finish the race first and that’s something we don’t ever take for granted.”

In the right conditions, like those hard running conditions in 1999 when Nokia set a new fastest time, Richards believes the current record set by Wild Oats XI in 2005 could be slashed by up to 10 hours.

Mike Slade, owner/skipper of the biggest likely threat to Wild Oats XI, ICAP Leopard, last night commented: “We’ve got a real corker of a race on our hands. I think it’s going to be one of the closest Rolex Sydney Hobarts for a long time. Any one of the four 30 metres can win over the line”.

Former Wallaby test prop Bill Young will swap the rugby field for the ‘paddock’ of Bass Strait in his first Rolex Sydney Hobart aboard the Volvo 60 George Gregan Foundation, which will be skippered by former 18 foot skiff world champion David Witt. The boat will raise awareness and funds for the George Gregan Foundation which supports projects for sick children.

Young, who is preparing himself physically and mentally, is both excited and nervous about his first Rolex Sydney Hobart, but says the teamwork and camaraderie of a sailing crew is similar to that of a rugby team.

“I reckon lining up on Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day will feel a bit like running onto the ground for a test match, except I only ever felt a bit queasy before a match and this time I’m worried that feeling with last a lot longer,” said Young. “I’ve got a lot of respect for anyone who undertakes this race and especially for the people that come back year after year.”

Among the many contenders for overall winner this year is race stalwart Syd Fischer and his crew on RagamuffinThis will be Fischer’s 39th race and, having won line honours in 1988 and 1990 and overall in 1992 with previous Ragamuffins, heunderstands the eternal challenge of this event, and besides: “I can’t think of anything else to do between Christmas and New Year” he admitted at today’s launch. “Winning a Rolex Sydney Hobart is every sailor’s dream but it’s so bloody testing that even when you win it, you vow never to do it again.

“But 12 months later all you can remember is the adventure of the journey, the moments you shared as a crew and the thrill of arriving in Hobart and then, before you know it, you’re sending in your entry form again,” said Fischer who is about to replace the keel on his TP52 and strengthen the boat for its first Bass Strait crossing.

An older legend of the race, the 1997 line honours winner Brindabella, is returning for its 13th start as Andrew Short Marine Brindabella, this time with new owner/skipper Andrew Short at the helm. ‘Shorty’ has revamped the 14 year-old boat by adding a bow sprit and may change the keel prior the race start to give the veteran maxi a better chance of staying in touch with the newer boats.

The first lead up regatta to the Boxing Day start will be the Rolex Trophy One Design Series from 7-9 December followed by the spectacular SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on Tuesday 11 December and finally, the Rolex Trophy Rating Series, an exciting preview to the handicap form guide for the Rolex Sydney Hobart, from 13-16 December.

Last year, a fleet of 87 yachts applied to enter the Rolex Sydney Hobart, 78 made it to the start line on Boxing Day and 69 crossed the finish line off Hobart’s historic Battery Point having completed the gruelling 628 nautical mile course.

The line honours record currently stands at 1 day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds, set by Wild Oats XI in 2005.

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