Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI, which has been stored in a hangar since March, has been undergoing modifications behind closed doors but skipper Mark Richards is tight-lipped about the makeover. He has said the latest round of modifications was designed to strengthen the boat without compromising speed.
“They are fairly major changes but they are top secret,” said Richards.
“We are endeavouring to make the boat bullet proof. We are just trying to anticipate the worst conditions possible and make sure we can withstand them,” said the three-time winning line honours and one-time overall winning skipper who Oatley puts in charge of his pride and joy for the annual 628 nautical mile slog south.
Boat manager Iain Smith coordinated the 15 tonne haul out this morning. “She’s been tucked away for seven months; it’s good to get the boat out early so the Hobart program can get underway,” he said today.
Some of the crew members signed up for this year’s race were on hand for the haul out and wash down – and there was already talk of lucky charms and superstitions. Smith is hoping the big boat can keep its “lucky decals”, the two Rolex bow stickers that were put on prior to the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart, while some of the crew are planning to wear the same socks and sea boots south.
The boat is being trucked from Bankstown Airport tonight and will be launched at White Bay at 7am tomorrow morning, Wednesday 29 October, before motoring to Noakes at Woolwich Dock where it will be lifted out of the water so the keel and rudder can be fitted. The boat will be re-launched Friday morning and the mast stepped in preparation for its first test sail this coming weekend.
Apart from the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour on Tuesday December 16, Wild Oats XI isn’t planning to sail in company until the day of the race, 26 December 2008.
“We are locked into getting the boat to Hobart. We’ve got a really strict training and fitness program planned and there won’t be any racing apart from the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge. It’s straight line sailing only,” said Richards.
Safety, particularly for the 10 year anniversary of the 1998 Sydney Hobart, is also a top priority for the Wild Oats XI crew. All 24 will re-do their First Aid and Safety and Sea Survival courses (SSSC), a commitment which goes way beyond the eligibility requirements that state half of the crew must hold a current SSSC certificate and at least two crew members must hold a Senior First Aid certificate.
“If a southerly kicks up in the race lead up we’ll be out there, plus we’ll be doing a lot of night training and practising our sail changes until there are no mistakes,” added Richards.
For Richards at least, the hype of claiming a fourth line honours win in a row is something he won’t be drawn into. “We don’t think about it and we treat each race separately. Getting there is our goal, winning is a bonus”.
Smith echoed those words today, “The biggest thing for us is making sure we get there. Four in a row is a big incentive but it’s also added pressure”.
A similar crew to 2007 will return for the record breaking attempt including big guns Iain Murray, Michael Coxon and navigators Ian ‘Fresh’ Burns and Adrienne Cahalan.
The record for the most line honours wins in the 63 years of the Rolex Sydney Hobart is held by Morna/Kurrewa IV, the same boat which sailed to seven line honours victories under two different owners and two different names, the last time in 1960 as Kurrewa IV.
Last year Wild Oats XI equalled Morna’s record three-in-a-row set in the 1940s and should she beat the fleet to Hobart in two months time, history will be rewritten by the striking Sydney maxi.
Wild Oats XI also holds the current Rolex Sydney Hobart race record, set in 2005, of 1 day 18 hours 40 minutes 10 seconds.
Applications for entry for the 64th edition of Australia’s most famous blue water classic close next Monday, 3 November 2008, at 1700hrs. So far a fleet of 80 boats has been nominated.