Mark Richards, skipper of Wild Oats XI, vying for a fifth successive line honours win with James Connell, co-owner of Zephyr, the smallest boat in the fleet  of 112 yachts

Mark Richards, skipper of Wild Oats XI, vying for a fifth successive line honours win with James Connell, co-owner of Zephyr, the smallest boat in the fleet of 112 yachts

112 for this year's Hobart race

Powerful line-up expected for Boxing Day's flight south

Tuesday November 24th 2009, Author: Jennifer Crooks, Location: United Kingdom
The start of this year’s 65th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will take centre stage in late December when the anticipated fleet of 112, led by the most exciting line up of maxis ever seen in Australia, promises to set Sydney Harbour alight on Boxing Day.

Currently 112 yachts are expected on the two start lines on 26 December 2009 for the annual summer blue water classic, a substantial increase on last year’s 100 starters and just four shy of the 60th anniversary fleet when entries spiked considerably.

Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), Matt Allen, said the large number of entries was an encouraging show of support for the race: "It’s a return to the sort of numbers the event attracted a decade ago and in the midst of what has been a tough year financially for many, it’s a great show of confidence and support for the world famous dash across eastern Bass Strait to Hobart.

"The way this year’s line honours contest is shaping up, and with the calibre of international yachts and sailors heading our way, we can expect the eyes of the world to turn to our event when the starting gun is fired at 1pm on 26 December."

The Rolex Sydney Hobart 2009 has attracted so many big boats as a result of the CYCA’s decision to increase the length overall limit, or LOA, to 100ft or 30.48m, thereby bringing the event in-line with other major international events including the Transpac and Rolex Fastnet Race.

The spotlight is well and truly on the impending line honours tussle as Bob Oatley’s Reichel Pugh 100, Wild Oats XI, is prepped for an unprecedented five in a row, the mighty Sydney maxi edging closer to Morna/Kurrewa’s all-time record of seven non-consecutive titles.

The difference this year is that the current race record holder is not the only standout big boat in the pack.

Four other 100 footers and two 98 footers have their sights set on ending Wild Oats XI’s four year dominance of the ocean classic and the dockside talk amongst those who will be driving the challengers south is that of those six, at least four have a realistic shot at beating the fleet to Hobart.

Of those vying for line honours, Neville Crichton’s RP 100, Alfa Romeo from New Zealand, is causing the most unease. With 143 line honours wins over four years, Crichton’s return from the Mediterranean and Europe, where he has been campaigning the boat since the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart, comes with a strong word of warning.

Commenting at the official media launch, Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark Richards said “We cannot assume anything. Our toughest competition this year in the line honours battle will definitely be from Neville Crichton and his Alfa Romeo crew. Neville is a fierce competitor and puts an amazing campaign together - he has installed a new light weight mast, a new bow sprit and is the only boat in the world racing under IRC with a tungsten bulb keel."

When questioned about Wild Oats XI modifications, Richards revealed : " Wild Oats has undergone a lot of modifications. In lengthening to 100ft, we now have a greater sail area and have installed a new bulb on the keel - plus we’re going with a crew of 18, not the usual 24, so we’re carrying less weight in people and the associated equipment, in our aim to go faster than we ever have before.

"The crew are still pinching themselves having won the last four Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht races - there is no expectation to win again, said Richards, adding “however, we are in the race to win it again. Whichever team gets the boat to Hobart first and in one piece will be declared the winner!"

In a decent blow, British yachtsman Mike Slade’s heavier Farr 100 ICAP Leopard, the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race line honours winner, or Sean Langman’s newly revamped Elliott 100ft LOYAL could out-last both the Reichel Pughs heading south, while Grant Wharington’s newly modified Wild Thing (the 2003 line honours victor from Victoria) is also expected to be faster than ever with its new radical seven metre keel.

LOYAL will add plenty of sporting glamour to the head of the fleet with Olympic swimming gold medallist Grant Hackett, boxer Danny Green, HSBC Waratahs captain Phil Waugh and former rugby union player Phil Kearns teaming up with an experienced offshore crew led by 18-time Rolex Sydney Hobart skipper Sean Langman.

"Those who have joined the LOYAL crew have great respect for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the sea and our fellow crew members. It’s one of the great Australian sporting traditions," said Phil Waugh. "I remember playing cricket in the backyard on Boxing Day, ducking in to watch the start of the Boxing Day test, more backyard cricket and then sitting down at 1pm to watch the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart."

Aboard Brook Lenfest’s 100ft performance cruiser/racer Rapture from the USA, pro surfer Mark Occhilupo will indulge his love of the ocean in what will be his first Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

International entries are again strong with 11 yachts sailing for Spain, the UK, Netherlands, USA, New Caledonia, and New Zealand . Every Australian state and the ACT are represented too, with the majority of boats once again hailing from NSW yacht clubs and ports.

New Zealand has a strong showing with Alfa Romeo and Lion New Zealand flying the flag. Lion New Zealand’s crew will celebrate 25 years since the boat’s line honours win in the gruelling 1984 Sydney Hobart when it was skippered by the late Sir Peter Blake and crewed by yachting legends Grant Dalton, Simon Gundry and Kevin Shoebridge.

This year, the Ron Holland-designed 78ft maxi will be sailed south by a number of offspring of those original heroes; Sir Peter Blake’s daughter Sarah Jane Blake, Simon Gundry’s son, Conrad, and Godfrey Gray’s son, Sam, all stepping up to the plate.

While the big boats enjoy their private battle, the competition for overall winner and the George Adams Tattersall Cup (or Tattersall’s Cup as it is generally referred to) will be fiercer than ever - and age is no barrier for the contenders.

The classic 1973 built Sparkman and Stephens 47 Love & War, a three-time overall winner (1974, 1978, 2006), has well and truly proven itself in this race. Among the older generation of boats Love & War will be challenging Ian Kiernan’s Sanyo Maris, which is fresh from its second consecutive overall win in the qualifying Gosford to Lord Howe Island Race.

Kiernan, founder of Clean Up Australia, has the right boat and plenty of incentive for the overall win after being forced out of his Rolex Sydney Hobart comeback race last year with damage.

The grand prix line up is second to none, with the likes of 2008 overall winner, Bob Steel’s TP52 Quest, Stephen Ainsworth’s in-form RP63 Loki and the overall winner of this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race, Niklas Zennstrom’s JV72 Ran 2, which is making the long passage from the UK to Australia for a crack at one of the world’s most sought after yachting trophies.

Commenting on the battle for the overall win at today’s launch, Loki’s sailing master Gordon Maguire said: "The battle for the overall honours will be just as tough as the battle for the line honours win. The winner will be determined by which boat and crew have done their homework, the right amount of work and the one that performs best in the race. If you combine all this, there are probably 12 boats that are serious contenders for handicap honours and then we’ll let the weather sort it.

“At the end of the day we will race to the best of our abilities but it’s the variances in the weather that make the difference. The ability to judge when and where the changes in weather will occur determines who wins the Tattersall’s Cup."

Michael Hiatt’s Farr 55 Living Doll from Victoria has won three major regattas this year, twice nudging out Ray Roberts’ Cookson 50 Evolution Racing from the CYCA, always a strong handicap contender, while Ed Psaltis and Bob Thomas of AFR Midnight Rambler (CYCA) are arguably two of the most consistent offshore yachtsmen on the east coast.

Since their 1998 Sydney Hobart Tattersall’s Cup win, Psaltis and Thomas have been named CYCA blue water champions (2006-07), and are currently sitting first on the 2009-10 Blue Water Pointscore series provisional pointscore with their modified Farr 40.

The smallest and oldest boat in this year’s fleet is James Connell and Alex Brandon’s 34 footer, Zephyr, while the largest will be the five 100 footers.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart will be preceded by the Rolex Trophy to be conducted on the waters off Sydney Heads. Racing for the one design classes, including Farr 40 and Sydney 38 classes will take place over 11-13 December and the IRC and Performance Handicap boats over 17-20 December 2009.

The annual SOLAS Big Boat Challenge will be held on Tuesday 15 December on Sydney Harbour. This will be the one and only time Wild Oats XI will go head to head with some of its adversaries prior to the Boxing Day start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, as the boat is being deliberately conserved for the great race.

Applications for entry will continue to be processed by the CYCA sailing office and if all the race entry criteria is met, owners will be invited to submit an entry form by 4 December.

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