Please select your home edition
Edition
Sail Port Stephens 2017 728x90

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.

Jeanneau Sunfast 660x82BandG AUS Triton2 660x82Gold Coast Marine Expo 2017 660x82

Related Articles

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - Suck it up, sunshine!
The 72nd start of the iconic blue water classic had 300,000 spectators lining the foreshores of Sydney Harbour The 72nd start of the iconic blue water classic had 300,000 spectators lining the foreshores of Sydney Harbour, another two million watching on TV, and the constant buzz and whir of media helicopters overhead. 88 boats, from Australia, USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Japan, Korea, China, oh and New Zealand, had lined up on three start lines.
Posted on 31 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race - More merriment on the airwaves
Here are more examples of merriment on the airwaves between the boats and Hobart Race Control So on December 29, 2016, after the River Derwent had let just three boats home (Perpetual Loyal, Giacomo and Scallywag, all inside the old race record, she went to sleep for a lot of the day. This made it frustrating for the sailors, some of whom saw the lighter side. So after seeing some of those in Dark & Stormy, here are more examples of merriment on the airwaves between the boats and HRC
Posted on 29 Dec 2016
Sydney Hobart Race-Dark and stormy, well because it is Dark and Stormy
Proving that there is a lighter side to the frustrations that is a race to Hobart Well it is now dark and the rain 'storms' have passed, but proving that there is a lighter side to the frustrations that is a race to Hobart, the custom Murray 37, Dark & Stormy had a wonderful exchange on the radio. Quite possibly it was co-owner and Navigator Terry Courts on the VHF in the super-frank exchange with Hobart Race Control at around 1928hrs on 29/12/16.
Posted on 29 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race - Wicked
ather and Son outfit, Wicked, are Matt and Mark Welsh from Melbourne. Matt is at home on the couch after knee surgery Father and Son outfit, Wicked, are Matt and Mark Welsh from Melbourne. Matt is at home on the couch after knee surgery, but Mark is out on the water, approaching Hobart. From on board he said, 'Amazing race. Barely any windward work. Just does not get better than this. Bit of gear damage cost us early, and we had to sail a little conservatively.'
Posted on 29 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race - Accepting the Challenge
When you buy a boat like the late Lou Abrahma's Sydney 38, Challenge, you're almost obliged to keep taking her South When you buy a boat like the late Lou Abrahma's Sydney 38, Challenge, you're almost obliged to keep taking her South at Christmas time. Luckily this has not been a problem for Chris Mrakas and his new crew, which includes Bruce Reidy
Posted on 29 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – 67 out of 70
It's a pretty awesome score in anybody’s language. When it is the number of hours you spend under kite It's a pretty awesome score in anybody’s language. When it is the number of hours you spend under kite in the 72nd Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race so far, then it is more than A+++. Anto Sweetapple from on board the Jones 40, Quetzalcoatl, reports in from at sea for us.
Posted on 29 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart 2016 - The 60 Hour report card
60 hours into the 72nd Rolex Sydney Hobart race. 16 boats finished,five boats retired and 67 boats at sea. The state of play 60 hours into the 72nd running of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. At 0100hrs Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time this morning, 16 boats had finished the 2016 race. Five boats had retired, and 67 boats were still on the water.
Posted on 28 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – the second step for CQS and 2017
It was a frustrating end to a frustrating race for the newest supermaxi in the 2016 Rolex Sydney to Hobart race It was a frustrating end to a frustrating race for the newest supermaxi to compete in the 2016 Rolex Sydney to Hobart race. It was just her second ever race, with her first, the White Island Race in New Zealand, producing a line honours win. While Ludde Ingvall’s radical new 98-footer CQS had a very slow passage across an almost windless Storm Bay and River Derwent.
Posted on 28 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – Derwent sleeping it off?
We spoke about how anyone with an interest in ensuring Perpetual Loyal got Line Honours, also a new record in the race In the article Right-turn-means-record-in-mortal-danger, we spoke about how anyone with an interest in ensuring Perpetual Loyal got Line Honours and also a new record in the race should go down and pour a rum into the River Derwent from Constitution Dock. Looks like they did. However, they may have poured the entire barrel in, because now the River is sleeping it off.
Posted on 27 Dec 2016
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – Race record smashed
On Day Three (just) of the 72nd Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race Perpetual Loyal smashed the race record On Day Three (just) of the 72nd Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, in the strongest downwind conditions in recent times, certainly as good as the 1999 iteration of the blue water classic, Anthony Bell’s supermaxi, Perpetual Loyal, the former Speedboat and then Rambler 100, smashed the race record for the famous 628-nautical mile event.
Posted on 27 Dec 2016