There is no doubt that Australian father and son Bob and Sandy Oatley are seriously sailing mad, their super maxi Wild Oats XI has won six Sydney to Hobart races on line honours, they play host to one of the largest sailing regattas in the south hemisphere, Hamilton Island Race Week and they are fascinated by the America's Cup.
The America’s Cup is welcomed to Audi Hamilton Island Race Week by island owner and veteran yachtsman, Bob Oatley, Cup winning skipper Jimmy Spithill, and Hamilton Island Yacht Club Commodore, Iain Murray - Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2012
Ahead of Race Week 2011, Iain Murray, the 34th America’s Cup Regatta Director, arranged for the America’s Cup to be flown to Hamilton Island to be displayed there. Murray has long connections with the Oatley’s, he has regularly sailed to Hobart on Wild Oats XI as the tactician, and he was the founding Commodore of the Hamilton Island Yacht Club. (HIYC)
For years Australian sailors have hoped that the very well-heeled Oatley family, who made their fortune in the wine industry might mount an America´s Cup challenge. There is plainly the talent and experience available and there have been plenty of discussions with the Oatley’s on this subject in recent times.
Thursday was the 30th anniversary of Australia II’s victory in 1983 and Bob Oatley attended two celebration functions this week and the 34th America’s Cup just concluded in San Francisco had a strong Australian presence.
Oracle Team USA
As well as Iain Murray, another Australian Grant Simmer was the Oracle Team USA General Manager and on the water Oracle’s skipper and helmsman, Jimmy Spithill, is Australian, as were three of his crew, strategist Tom Slingsby, wing trimmer Kyle Langford and headsail trimmer Joey Newton and two more Australians Adam Beashel and Glenn Ashby sailed as part of the Emirate Team New Zealand crew.
The New York Times’ Christopher Clarey ran an article a few days ago which has set the hounds running suggesting that next Challenger of Record (CoR) for the 35th America’s Cup was set to be the Hamilton Island Yacht Club from Queensland, Australia, citing unnamed Emirates Team New Zealand sources, allegedly told by the Golden Gate Yacht Club. (GGYC)
Reuter’s writer Ronnie Cohen, yesterday again without naming sources said that a Robert Oatley wine employee had delivered the Challenger of Record documents to GGYC after the final race.
Tom Ehman, a key Oracle figure and Vice Commodore of the GGYC, said that he would 'neither confirm nor deny' that Hamilton Island Yacht Club was the next CoR and said that Golden Gate and Oracle Team USA would announce the challenger’s identity in due course.
'What I can say is that GGYC has received a challenge,' Ehman said. 'I received it on the water on Wednesday immediately when our boat crossed the finish line and won. Commodore Norbert Bajurin was with me. We received and then we accepted the challenge, and I’m satisfied that it’s a bona fide yacht club under the deed of gift.'
Wild Oats XI
However Bob Oatley has said loudly and often that his America’s Cup is the Sydney to Hobart Race and only a few weeks ago Bob said he had spent enough on Hamilton Island ahead of the Race Week 30th.
So a sudden change of heart would be interesting, however the Oatley´s track record shows a willingness to share the limelight, as they do with the automotive giant Audi for Audi Hamilton Island Race week, so some kind of collaborative adventure could be on the cards.
Even if HIYC is involved, there's no way they will pre-empt any official announcement. That would have GGYC offside from the outset. The fact is that nothing will be known until the CoR is announced officially by GGYC, which could be as early as Monday morning Californian time.
Hamilton Island Resort Chairman Sandy Oatley said yesterday ‘it’s a nice rumour - and it would be nice if it's true.'
That might indeed be the case, however Sail-World has seen no hard evidence that the Oatley family themselves are ready to fund an America´s Cup challenge on their own.
Deeper pockets would seem needed than the Oatley's can provide.
2013 Audi Hamilton Island Race Week- Swiss billionaire, Ernesto Bertarelli, will be bringing the 96-metre superyacht, Vava II, to Audi Hamilton Island Race Week in August. He has chartered Wild Oats X to race at the regatta.
The presence of Ernesto Bertarelli and his wife Kirsty with their mega yacht Vava II at Hamilton Island Race Week just a month before the America’s Cup might not have been just a happy coincidence
Ernesto Bertarelli involvement would add considerable weight to a Hamilton Island Yacht Club Challenge.
Certainly an Alinghi challenge thru Hamilton Island Yacht Club might be the combination that could work.
33rd America's Cup Alinghi 5 day one on dock Ernesto Bertarelli - America's Cup 2010 Day One
In 2003 Bertarelli, one of the very richest men in the world, from the landlocked Switzerland, not a renowned sailing nation was able to assemble a winning team with the help of the core of the Kiwi America’s Cup ‘tight five’ and successfully defended in 2007.
Bertarelli needs to do it again to mount an equally successful challenge and this time it could be with the help of Australia.
Some funding from the Oatley’s and the considerable experience of Iain Murray and Grant Simmer onshore and Spithill, Slingsby, Outteridge, Ashby, Bundock, Newton, Langford would be a great starting place.
If the 35th America’s Cup requires 50%or even 60% crew from the challenging nation then that too would deliver another box ticked. Think about that, how would the Swiss provide a team under those rules?
However remember, up to now there not a single named source for this story, which is certainly juicy speculation however within the next day or so, the pages of America’s Cup history could turn again with another Australian challenge.
We shall see… and we live in hope
Ernesto Bertarelli Tug O’War