Please select your home edition
Edition
Marine Resource 2016

Sydney Hobart - From canoe with a bed sheet sail to Wild Oats XI

by Rob Mundle on 25 Dec 2011
On the charge: Wild Oats XI surges south in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race © Andrea Francolini Photography http://www.afrancolini.com/
When Wild Oats XI surges out of Sydney Harbour after the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race at 1.00pm on Boxing Day December 26, there will be a distinct link between the 30-metre long racing supermaxi and a flimsy little, canvas-covered canoe that sailed on the same harbour 72 years earlier.

That link is Wild Oats XI’s owner, Bob Oatley: he also owned the canoe.

Bob Oatley was 11-years-old when he first ventured onto Sydney Harbour under sail. The canoe had cost a lot of money for a young lad back then – two shillings and sixpence – and once that transaction was complete he set about converting it into a sailboat because sailing appealed a lot more than paddling. The mast was a wooden garden stake, the sail was made from a bed sheet, and the roughly hewn rudder was crafted from a piece of scrap timber.

Bob’s mother passed away before he was one-year-old, and his family was not well-to-do, so this canoe satisfied his adventurous spirit under sail until he was 15 and started work as a messenger boy in an office in the heart of Sydney. That allowed him to save enough money to buy a 12ft skiff.

While this modest, self-made man has never been one to seek the limelight, he needs no introduction these days. This is because, in the last decade, his success in the upper echelon of yachting, and in business, has turned the spotlight his way and transported him into public prominence. He is also a generous philanthropist.

In sailing he is best-known for pioneering canting keels in Grand Prix level international ocean racing; leading Australia to victory in the Admiral’s Cup in 2003, and owning the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race record holder, Wild Oats XI. In business he is recognised as a pioneer of the coffee industry in New Guinea, and after that he became one of Australia’s most successful winemakers. Today there’s still no stopping this octogenarian: he’s back in the wine business with the already successful Wild Oats, Robert Oatley and Montrose labels. Also, his family company now owns that highly desired holiday destination in the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island.

This year Wild Oats XI will be going for a remarkable sixth line honours in seven starts. If that bid is successful then in 2012 the yacht will be out to equal the highest number of line honours ever achieved in the race’s 67-year history. The score of seven fastest times was recorded by Morna (later Kurrewa IV) between 1946 and 1960.

Unfortunately, a medical condition with his legs has ended Bob’s ability to sail in long distance ocean races, but he will be following his yacht and the highly experienced team over every one of the 628 nautical miles of the course: ‘These days, for me, it’s a bit like being at the Melbourne Cup and watching from the grandstand while your horse runs for the prize,’ he explained. ‘The big difference is that it takes a lot longer to get a result in the Hobart race. Even so, it’s so exciting for me I still feel as though I am there.’

The Wild Oats XI crew, under the leadership of Mark Richards, is full of praise for Bob Oatley and the opportunity he has given them to ‘carry his colours’ to victory.

Wild Oats XI has never been better prepared for a start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart race. She will carry a new, high-tech metallic-looking mainsail that holds its shape as if it was a rigid wing. This sail is 30 square metres larger at the top than the sail it replaces. Sailmakers have also increased the area of the yacht’s largest gennaker by 50 square metres to a total of 900 square metres.

‘Prepared as we are, thanks to Bob, we must not lose sight of the fact that this is a Hobart race, and that means nothing is certain until you cross the finish line,’ said Mark Richards. ‘It’s a tough challenge because there are so many elements that can bring you unstuck – weather, sea state, equipment failure, even a collision with a semi-submerged object. Being favourite for line honours means little to us: we just have a job to do, and that will be our focus all the way.’


The fact that the yacht is race ready meant that the 20 crewmembers were able to spend Christmas Day relaxing with family and friends. If there is to be any anxious moment it will come in the hours leading up to the start when expert sail trimmer, Robbie ‘Battler’ Naismith, is due to fly in from Auckland. There will be 19 crew mates hoping his flight is not delayed.

The latest weather forecast for the race from the highly respected yachting meteorologist, Roger Badham, sees the projected elapsed time for the largest yachts increased to two days and eight hours – 15 hours beyond the race record time Wild Oats XI set in 2005. Badham expects a southerly buster to impact the leaders off Jervis Bay. Strong winds from forward of abeam will continue until the big boats are well into Bass Strait.

Hood SailsPacific Sailing School 660x82 1Zhik Yachting 660x82

Related Articles

Gladwell's Line - Does the America's Cup really need a Star Chamber?
The first meeting of the three-man America's Cup Arbitration Panel is believed to have taken place in London The first meeting of the three-man America's Cup Arbitration Panel is believed to have taken place in London in the past week or so. Officially the date hasn't been publicly announced. The venue hasn't been publicly named, and the parties have appeared before a Panel that is publicly nameless.
Posted on 23 Jul
America's Cup - Glenn Ashby on Emirates Team NZ's road to Bermuda
Part 2 of the interview with Emirates Team NZ skipper Glenn Ashby. In this part of the interview we look at what is going to happen once Emirates Team NZ get their 'AC49.5' sailing in Auckland, and how the campaign may shape up before they leave for Bermuda. Ashby wouldn’t be drawn on whether Team New Zealand had started their AC50 build, with July being the usual start of what is usually a five-month build and commissioning period for an end of December launch.
Posted on 10 Jul
America's Cup - Glenn Ashby on Emirates Team NZ's new AC49.5
Sail-World talks with Emirates Team NZ skipper, Glenn Ashby on what is different about the team's new test boat Just under 11 months out from the 35th America’s Cup, Team New Zealand does not seem to be in its customary place at the front of the starting grid to be the first to launch their Challenger, or are they? Although they will be one of the last of the six teams to launch an AC45 Surrogate, Emirates Team New Zealand may have stolen a march with a boat that is as close as you can get to an AC50.
Posted on 9 Jul
Gladwell's Line - Emirates Team NZ launches shadow AC50
Emirates Team NZ took a late but significant step along the road to the 35th America's Cup, with the launch of their AC4 Emirates Team NZ took a late but significant step along the road to the 35th America's Cup, with the launch of their AC45S - as the test boats are called in the Protocol which governs the 2017 event. The bloated Protocol, which now runs to 83 pages of legalese, is restrictive on the size of boat that can be built as a test platform but doesn't restrict the number that can be built.
Posted on 22 Jun
Platino recovery - Family confirms that tug has made rendezvous
Reports in social media say a salvage tug has made a rendezvous with the Platino earlier than expected. Reports in social media by family and friends of Nick Saull, the crew member killed during a catastrophic incident abroad the 66ft yacht Platino say the salvage tug which left on Tuesday night has made the rendezvous earlier than expected. The Facebook report says the tug, Sea Pelican, arrived on Friday morning, the weather in the area has eased and with a more favorable outlook.
Posted on 16 Jun
Rio 2016 - Double Olympic medallist on the delights of Guanabara Bay
Olympic Gold and Bronze medallist Bruce Kendall updates on the 2016 Olympic venue at Guanabara Bay. Olympic Gold and Bronze medallist, and now a windsurfer coach, Bruce Kendall has made several trips to the 2016 Olympic venue at Guanabara Bay. He updates on the pollution issue which is clearly not going to be resolved in a couple of months, and also shares his views on the venue from a sailing competition perspective.
Posted on 14 Jun
America's Cup - Artemis win Chicago as Team Japan wins two races
Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series got three races away on Super Sunday. After losing the first official day of racing due to light winds and the non-arrival of the onshore breeze, Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series got three races away on Super Sunday. From a racing perspective this was probably the best day of racing yet in the series which counts for points in the Qualifying Series of the America's Cup in 11 months time.
Posted on 12 Jun
America's Cup - Emirates TNZ NZ and Oracle capsize in Chicago Practice
Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA capsized in Practice Racing at the Louis Vuitton ACWS Chicago There was action aplenty on Practice Day at Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series Chicago, after Emirates Team New Zealand capsized in their match with Oracle Team USA, and then Oracle Team USA capsized later in the day. Team NZ's skipper skipper Glenn Ashby performed some impressive acrobatics ejecting from the AC45 capsize, without injury.
Posted on 11 Jun
America's Cup - Changes proposed to control future Cup options
Changes are being mooted to put the America's Cup on a longer-term footing according to the Daily Telegraph (UK) News that changes are being mooted to put the America's Cup on a longer-term footing is being floated in the Daily Telegraph (UK) by the British Challenger, Land Rover BAR. According to the Telegraph, some of the teams in the 2017 America's Cup are keen to lock-in parameters which would bind successive holders of the a style and frequency for the next America's Cup Match.
Posted on 8 Jun
America's Cup - AC50 construction uncovered - Part 2 - Wings and Costs
Second part of a two-part series looking at the AC50 construction progress at Core Builders Composites Second part of a two-part series looking at the construction progress at Core Builders Composites, and features of the AC50 class which will be used in the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda. Tim Smyth takes us on a tour of the CBC facility in Warkworth, and hour's drive north of Auckland. Where several AC50's, components and wingsails are under construction or have already been shipped to the teams.
Posted on 5 Jun