The international effort to have the 30-metre long supermaxi yacht, Wild Oats XI, repaired and on the start line for next month’s Rolex Sydney-Hobart race took a major step forward today with the replacement of a large part of the yacht’s damaged deck.
Highly qualified composite construction specialists took much of the day to fit an 8 x 3 metre section of deck. The pre-fabricated structure replaced the deck area between the forward hatch and aft hatch which was damaged when the yacht’s mast broke during a trial race two weeks ago.
A local and international effort swung into place immediately after the incident in a bid to have the record-breaking yacht on the start line for the 75th Hobart race on December 26. A new lower mast section was made in New Zealand and rigging was air freighted to Spain for x-ray checks and replacement. Simultaneously, damaged sails have been either replaced or repaired at sail lofts in Asia and South America.
“It has been a huge international effort to get Wild Oats XI repaired and back in the water in time for the Hobart race,” said Olympic and America’s Cup yachtsman, Iain Murray, who is a reserve helmsman and the strategist aboard the supermaxi.
“If I was a total optimist I would say there is a remote chance the yacht will start in the Solas Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour on December 10, but that race is a far cry from being a priority. Being 100% ready for the Hobart race is what really matters.”
On November 8 Wild Oats XI’s 45-metre high carbon fibre mast fractured at deck level when the yacht was leading the fleet in the 150 nautical mile Cabbage Tree Island race out of Sydney.
Murray said the yacht was sailing at 32 knots and surfing down a wave when there was a sudden and loud bang. There was no indication as to what was the cause, but it was evident that the problem was major as the rigging supporting the mast had gone loose and as a consequence the mast was leaning over the side at an alarming angle. An urgent search by crew on deck and below soon revealed that the mast had snapped just below the deck, and was only being held in place by the mast collar at deck level.
Skipper Mark Richards, Murray and others immediately realised that should the mast break free then the hull might be holed and the yacht would be in danger of sinking.
“Mark Richards and I were aboard a carbon fibre America’s Cup yacht in 1995 when it broke in half and sank rapidly,“ Murray explained this week, “so we knew we had to do everything possible to avoid having that experience again. We immediately sent out a ‘pan-pan’ emergency call to alert crews on other race yachts that we might be in need of assistance. We then turned the yacht onto a course downwind and set about getting the sails down. That took an hour.”
Through great skill and professionalism on the part of the Wild Oats XI crew the yacht reached safe haven in Newcastle, 40 nautical miles to the north.
The team effort that is now going into getting Wild Oats XI to the Hobart race start line on December 26 is possibly unprecedented in the history of ocean racing.
It will be even more remarkable if it contests the Solas (Safety of Life at Sea) Big Boat Challenge. This event raises funds to support maritime safety organisations and endeavours in Australia.