Wild Oats XI leads the charge
A fleet of 25 crossed the start of the Audi Sydney Offshore Newcastle Yacht Race today at midday and it was no surprise to see Bob Oatley’s 100ft Wild Oats XI, with Mark Richards at the helm, lead the fleet out of Sydney Harbour in an 8 knot NNEerly breeze, the variable pressure, keeping all competitors on their toes.
The boat end was favoured at the start and Ragamuffin, Quest, Loki and Yendys, all in the running to win the Blue Water Pointscore (BWPS), were fast off the mark, making their way to the favoured eastern side of the Harbour, which paid dividends as they fleet made for North Head.
As the leader of the BWPS, of which this is the final race, it was a good start for Syd Fischer’s TP52 Ragamuffin, which followed Wild Oats XI out of the Heads, the bigger boat clearing North Head in around 20 minutes after numerous tacks down the harbour. Once outside, the breeze was a little stronger at around 12 knots.
Many made the retrospective mistake of heading to the western side of the Harbour and as the breeze started to die, many, including Ed Psaltis and his AFR Midnight Rambler crew (currently third in the BWPS), got caught out and found themselves in a knocking breeze on starboard tack.
Trevor Cosh and his Warwick 44 EZ Street (MHYC) had the dubious distinction of being last out of the Heads after being caught in irons near Manly. Her bigger rivals, the newly purchased Open 66 Broomstick, now named 'The Stick' and with Rick Christian at the helm, along with Peter Millard/John Honan’s 30 metre Lahana (Qld), were very slow off the start and The Stick second last out of the Heads.
The 213 nautical mile Category 2 race started off Steele Point at Vaucluse on Sydney Harbour and will take the fleet north to a mark around 20 nautical miles east of Crowdy Head before the yachts head to the Hunter River, Newcastle finish line.
With the fleet beating into the breeze once they rounded North Head, Stephen Ainsworth’s race record of 15 hrs 57 mins 53 secs, set with Loki last year, is likely to remain intact.
Wild Oats XI (NSW) is the obvious line honours contender, but Loki could well finish the race in second, so well is she sailed with the likes of Gordon Maguire, Ainsworth’s sailing master, aboard.
Prior to the race start, Wild Oats XI’s skipper Mark Richards commented: “I’m looking forward to this race – it should be a pleasant sail north. We’re getting the big boat out racing more so that we can have another crack at the line honours crown for the next Rolex Sydney Hobart.
At 1330 (local) today, Wild Oats XI was travelling at 10.8 knots off Newport on Sydney’s Northern Beaches sailing a track close to the coast. Following the super maxi in a tight bunch were Yendys, Geoff Ross’ Reichel/Pugh 55, Loki, Ragamuffin, Colin and Gladys Woods’ Cookson 50 Pretty Fly III and Bob Steel’s TP52 Quest, all representing the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.
This morning, skippers and tacticians were told to expect a 10-15 knot northeasterly for the race start, increasing to 15-20 by the afternoon – perfect summer conditions in autumn! Winds will veer further north overnight and ease to around 10 knots, possibly to as little as five knots late in the evening.
On Saturday, conditions are expected to mirror those of Friday to late in the afternoon, when the entire fleet should be safely tucked up in Newcastle.
Questioned on whether he thought a record run was possible, Richards said: “It’s going to be a little bit light, but if we get 25 knots tomorrow morning, we’ll smoke it home to Newcastle.”
Those entries returning to Sydney on Sunday need to be aware of a southerly change that is expected late on Sunday evening at 20-25 knots.
The Audi Sydney Offshore Newcastle Yacht Race is organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and is the final race of the Blue Water Pointscore and the Tasman Series for the PHS trophy.