Wild Oats nears finish

Conditions turn favourable in the Rolex Sydney Hobart

Tuesday December 28th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: Australia

The crew of Bob Oatley’s supermaxi Wild Oats XI seem to good shape to claim their fifth line honours victory in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as they continue to lead the charge south.

At the 1900 (local) sched the 30m long Wild Oats XI, skippered by Mark Richards, was into Storm Bay with 31.6 miles to go to the finish line, up the Derwent River off Hobart. She was making more than 15 knots and was shaping up to finish between 10pm and midnight. She currently holds a lead of 33 miles over Sean Langman and Anthony Bell's second placed Investec Loyal.

"It doesn’t get much better than this," said Wild Oat XI's co-navigator Ian ‘Fresh’ Burns this evening. "It’s perfect sailing out here."

One of the yacht’s kiwi crew, Robbie ‘Battler’ Naismith, spoke up in support: "If there was a time when you wanted to love everything about sailing then you could do no better than be here right now."

"This afternoon we are starting to see the benefit from our pre-race strategy," Burns continued. "Our plan was to get ourselves to the front of the fleet then cover our nearest challengers all the way to Hobart. We also knew we needed to nurse the boat across Bass Strait so we didn’t damage the yacht or have injured crew. As we approached the northeast corner of Tasmania early today we opted to hold a course offshore so we could stay in a better breeze and at the same time cover Investec Loyal. We’ve done just that and it’s worked. Interestingly, Wild Thing, which was about the same distance behind as Loyal this morning, elected to stay closer to the coast is now more than 90 miles back."

Investec Loyal, Peter Millard's Lahana and Matt Allen's former VO70 Ichi Ban are approaching Storm Bay from offshore while Grant Warrington's Wild Thing and Niklas Zennström's Ràn have opted to hug the Tasman coast on their run south.

"We're pretty up now," reported Investec Loyal skipper Sean Langman at this morning. "We had some seasickness in the crew but everyone's up in the sun now. The water/electronics problem on these boats is constant. We've been working round the clock to keep the systems going.  We are in reasonably good shape though we didn't realise until this morning that we had a substantial leak in the bow and took on a ton and a half of water. When we opened the watertight bulkhead the water came gushing out."

From on board Ichi Ban, former CYCA Commodore Matt Allen reported: "We've been really pleased with how it's been going. The hardest part will be when we encounter light airs. Wild Oats XI is better than us in light airs so hopefully we can keep the (wind) pressure going.

"It's been pretty easy compared to the worst scenarios we've seen over the years. The boat handled it really well. We didn't have any issues apart from the wind gear at the top of the mast. We are not confident yet of putting someone up to look at it. Certainly when you look at the worst years we've had, this was a long way short of those bad years."

Elsewhere in the fleet there were three more retirements overnight among the small to mid size boats, bringing to 15 the total number to have retired, with 72 still at sea. The retirees were Nemesis (an undisclosed problem), Pirelli Celestial (mainsail damage) and Salona II (steering). Injured Dodo crewman Brian Moore was transferred off the 66 foot yacht at Eden at around 1am this morning to a police vessel after his broken arm was strapped up by ambulance staff. He was taken to Pambula Hospital.

With the line honours race now set, so eyes turn to the Tattersall’s Cup, the silver trophy for the overall handicap winner of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s premier race. With the big conditions experienced by the fleet 24 hours ago, or specifically by the big boats as they set out across Bass Strait, so the favourites for the IRC win now appear to be among the smaller boats.

At present under IRC Bruce Taylor's JV40 Chutzpah is leading Darryl Hodgkinson's Beneteau First 45 Victoire and Geoff Boettcher's Reichel Pugh 51 Secret Men's Business 3.5

Bill Wild’s Rodd and Gunn Wedgetail was down to 21st on handicap at the latest sched. Navigator Will Oxley said “Tasman to the finish is in the hands of the gods. The miles we can make up until then are very important. Will the eastern route win out or will those closer to the rhumbline take the prize?"

From on board Chris Bull’s Cookson 50 Jazz, navigator Mike Broughton reported: “We’ve had some power problems with water getting into our diesel onboard, hence we have had to severely restrict use of power.”

“Morale onboard is good as we slowly sort out our engine. Anthony (Ski) Haines our boat captain has been up to his elbows in diesel trying to sort the problem out, not much fun in a seaway.He thinks we have so much water in the fuel that we will have to pump out the whole system when we get to Hobart.

“For a while this was nearly a turn back to Eden issue, we were so worried about it about half way across Bass Strait. The boat stank of diesel for most of yesterday, all good fun in 40 knots of wind! I am working hard to thread our way between what looks to be two areas of light wind ahead and so far this looks to be working and we are making good progress south with 210 miles to run to Tasman Island."


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