It has been a long time coming - but at last we have seen Bob Oatley’s six time Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours winner, Wild Oats XI, go head to head against Perpetual Loyal, widely tipped as the boat most likely to rain on Bob Oatley’s parade in 2013.
Perpetual Loyal owner Anthony Bell did it in 2011 with his former Loyal, (now racing as Ragamuffin 100), and is very optimistic he can do it again in a boat often acclaimed as the fastest 100 foot super maxi in the world.
Yet we are still none the wiser.
In a much stronger than forecast northwesterly, Perpetual Loyal and Wild Oats XI followed a give-no-quarter start with a neck and neck reach down the first leg past Shark Island, with Perpetual Loyal holding a slight edge.
Nothing changed as they tacked up to Fort Denison. In the strong breeze and flat water they looked very even in boat speed, with Perpetual LOYAL looking just so fast, and oh so powerful. Maybe a bit too powerful. As she surged past the stone fortress a big gust swept across Perpetual Loyal and blew out her huge R1 headsail.
“We carried the R1 in stronger conditions than we should,” a rueful Bell remarked post-race. ”In a longer race we would have changed our headsail sooner. But this is a fun day, we were going very fast….we popped it.”
While Perpetual Loyal struggled, Wild Oats XI slipped past, and with a big reef in her mainsail to counter the gusts she just took off. Maintaining her full mainsail a still over-powered Perpetual Loyal struggled and Wild Oats XI pulled further and further away.
With her replacement mast, installed just last night, Wild Oats XI finished the race as we have seen her do so often, with an intimidating display of precise crew work and raw boat speed.
Further back in the fleet, the strong conditions, so problematic for the 100 footers were just what Rob Hanna, at the helm of his TP52 Shogun V wanted. TP52s revel in a strong breeze and flat water, and Shogun V just looked fast all around the race track. And the looks were not deceiving.
Shogun V edged out Matt Allen’s brand new Carkeek 60 Ichi Ban to win the 2013 SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on corrected time by 1 minute 26 seconds.
Yet second placed Allen will be very happy with the performance of his latest Ichi Ban. He has his sights firmly set on winning this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart and believes that the 60 footer rates better and is more competitive in a wider range of possible race conditions than his previous Volvo 70.
Allen has only had the boat a couple of weeks and there is still some fine tuning to do, and it always takes a while to get to know a new boat, so expect Ichi Ban to be faster by Boxing Day.
“We were getting faster and faster as we adjusted the trim today,” Allen said after the race. “What we need to do now for Hobart is get all the systems working well and learn how to trim the boat to get the best out of her.”
While Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal battled it out for line honours, not far astern Peter Harburg’s new VO70 Black Jack set about stealing the show. Indeed, after a brilliant start the 70ft canting keeler powered around Shark Island and round the second mark in the lead, ahead of the Big 3: the 100ft super maxis Perpetual Loyal, Wild Oats XI and Wild Thing.
“We were thrilled,” Harburg said later. “I couldn’t believe we led for the first two marks.”
By the first spin around Fort Denison God was back in his heaven and Perpetual Loyal and Wild Oats XI had edged past Black Jack to take the lead, but the smaller boat just would not let them go, nipping at their heels as they swept around the course.
Harburg and his sailing master Mark Bradford used the delivery trip from Queensland in a strong southerly as a full race rehearsal, and have been training hard since arriving in Sydney. It showed.
Black Jack was smoking, holding an early edge over rival New Zealand VO70 Giacomo that quickly became a chasm when the Queenslanders put a big slab reef in their mainsail while the Kiwis struggled in their overpowered boat.
While all the Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours talk is about Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal, Harburg believes that in the right conditions his smaller, slipperier boat is faster than the maxis and sees the race as wide open. “There are eight boats this year that have made a huge investment (in winning line honours)” he says.
It was a disappointing day for Wild Thing, the other 100 footer in today’s SOLAS Big Boat Challenge fleet. Grant Wharrington was OCS and had to go back to do it all over again. His race was over before it started. At times Wild Thing looked very fast, at other times sluggish. In the end she crossed the line fourth, behind Black Jack.
One yacht was forced to retire Southern Excellence, and owner/skipper Andrew Wenham says he will be fully prepared for Boxing Day, and hopes for a top 10 finish in the ocean classic.
Anthony Bell, too, is confident he will have his torn R1 back from New Zealand in time for the Rolex Sydney Hobart. It’s just that “today was a more expensive day than we expected,” he mused.
“Welcome to 100 footers,” quipped Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards, who knows he has a real race on his hands after Christmas. “Loyal is an impressive piece of kit.”