After being the centre of attention for four frenetic months, Rolex Sydney Hobart Race record holder, Wild Oats XI, was lying idle at Sydney’s Woolwich Dock this afternoon like a thoroughbred waiting to be called to the start.
There was no activity on or around the yacht. Instead the crew and support team were at the start of a two day period of rest, relaxation and Christmas celebrations with family and friends.
“We’ve never been this well prepared this early in any one of our ten previous Hobart race campaigns,” said Skipper, Mark Richards. “We’ve ticked every box on the checklist, so now we can enjoy time with our families, wait and watch the evolving weather forecast.”
Three days out from the 1pm start on Sydney Harbour the weather forecast is indicating the race will be what Richards calls “a typical Hobart”. There will be a fast downwind run heading south from Sydney, some punishment in the form of a 30 knot southerly change during the first night, then some light patches when the leaders get close to Tasmanian coastal waters.
Yachting meteorologist, Roger Badham said the southerly change will quickly generate seas of up to four metres on the first night of the race; a scenario that Richards says is “nothing out of the ordinary” for a Hobart race.
Richards and his 19-man crew are keen to seen how the dramatically modified Wild Oats XI (owned by Bob and Sandy Oatley) compares to arch rival Comanche, owned by Jim and Kristy Clark.
Comanche, which at 100ft is the same length as Wild Oats XI, is recognised as the world’s fastest monohull, having covered an impressive 618 nautical miles in 24 hours earlier this year. Now, having finished second to Wild Oats XI in last year’s Hobart race, they are back in Sydney and fuelled by even greater determination to show the Australian supermaxi the way into Hobart.
A strong north-easterly wind is expected to be on hand when the 108 yachts line up for the start of the 628 nautical mile classic at 1pm on Boxing Day. This means the first stage, from the start to Sydney Heads, will be nothing like what was seen last year. That was when the recently launched Comanche blitzed the fleet, scorching away from Wild Oats XI and leading all yachts out of the harbour. Instead, this year the fleet will have to contend with headwinds and beat upwind to the harbour entrance before turning south.
It is the fast downwind run that will come once the yachts are offshore that could indicate how the race for being first to finish will develop. The Oatleys and their sailing team are hopeful that the major modifications to their yacht in recent months – which involved a new 14-metre long bow section being fitted – will see them more competitive against Comanche when running before the wind.
“We’re hoping we will be as fast as Comanche and able to sail lower (a more direct course towards Tasmania) on the first afternoon,” Richards said. “If we can do that then we will know we’re competitive. We should be averaging about 20 knots sailing south until the southerly change arrives that night, then we expect to be belting our way upwind for 12 hours or more, until conditions improve in Bass Strait.”
The current weather outlook for this year’s race suggests that Wild Oats XI’s race record time of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds, will stand for another year.
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