Please select your home edition
Edition
Safety at Sea - Baltic - 2

Winner takes all for Wild Oats XI

by Rolex Media Centre on 2 Jan 2006
A few days before the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, skipper of the brand-new maxi Wild Oats XI, Mark Richards, commented that winning the race on handicap was the real prize.

'It's a bigger thrill for a boat to win on handicap than to get line honours,' he said. 'Line honours this year is between four or five boats really. Handicap is between the whole fleet. That is the goal that everyone aspires to. All the guys up in the CYCA clubhouse with their photos on the wall, they are the handicap winners. From the sailors' point of view, that is the real trophy, to win the Tattersalls Cup.'

Little could Richards have realised that less than a week later, he would become the first skipper since Rani's victory in the inaugural race of 1945 to win 'the treble' - not just line honours, but the handicap victory and a new course record to boot. Many experts believed Bob Oatley's brand new maxi would get to Hobart at all. It was not an unreasonable assumption. You don't launch the world's most hi-tech and technically complex racing yacht just three weeks before an ocean race that takes you into some of the most treacherous seas in the world - and expect to get away with it, let alone win the race.

For that reason Alfa Romeo, a virtual twin of Wild Oats XI, was the bookies' favourite to win the race because owner/skipper Neville Crichton had spent five months working his Reichel/Pugh design up to speed. And when the two sisterships squared up to each other in the inshore series a week before the Hobart start, Alfa Romeo beat Wild Oats in almost every race.

Even then, despite Crichton's preparation, Alfa Romeo was considered touch and go for making it the full 628 miles to Hobart. Only if the 85-boat fleet received an uncharacteristically kind forecast did pundits believe the two newest maxis capable of going the distance. Waiting in the wings were the three leading contenders of last year's race - Konica Minolta, Skandia and the 2004 race winner Nicorette, now rebranded and repainted in the colours of the telecom company AAPT.

But the weather gods decided to be lenient and dealt one of the kindest weather forecasts seen for many years. Sean Langman, skipper of AAPT, said it was a dream scenario for the leading maxis. 'There is a fantastic opportunity for the treble with this forecast. The treble of winning line honours, handicap and the race record, which we haven't seen for some time.'

In front of thousands of spectators crowding the shores of Sydney Harbour for the Boxing Day start, along with hundreds of spectator boats and a swarm of TV choppers buzzing overhead, first blood went to Mark Richards, when he helmed Wild Oats out through the famous Sydney Heads two boat lengths ahead of Alfa Romeo.

Just behind the maxis, Alex Thomson and the crew on Hugo Boss were getting all the attention of the TV cameras and photographers as they started the race wearing suits and ties. Nick Moloney, the famous Aussie round-the-world sailor, was on board as well.

Further back in the fleet, the crew of Quest honoured their skipper, John Bennetto, who had died the week before, by throwing a wreath into the water next to the Rolex marker buoy, before continuing south towards Bennetto's birthplace of Hobart. The great sailor known to many as 'The Fish' holds the record of 44 Rolex Sydney Hobarts, a remarkable testament to his tenacity and dedication to the race.

Not long after the start, Alfa Romeo had overhauled Wild Oats by switching headsails earlier. It seemed that Alfa's crews' greater familiarity with their boat was paying off, while the Wild Oats crew were learning as they went along. Mark Richards and the crew had sailed little more than 300 miles aboard Wild Oats XI before the start - not even half a Hobart of experience to their name.

By the following morning, however, Wild Oats had turned the tables after a bold move inshore by the boat's co-navigators, Adrienne Cahalan and David Dickson. 'We went inshore, and that's where it made the difference for us,' commented Cahalan on satellite phone. 'We got a bit further down into the rhumb line down south and that's where the wind came in for us. We got a nice windshift off Gabo Island and I think that's where we took a step forward. We had a little more wind than we expected. We got the better case scenario where we kept some wind all night, whereas I don't think some of the others did.'

Surely it would simply be a matter of time before the greater experience and firepower of Crichton's crew - which numbered Ben Ainslie and Adrian Stead among the afterguard - would grind down the leader. But position reports showed Wild Oats gradually trickling away from Alfa Romeo. But as is so often the case, there was a sting in the tail as Wild Oats entered the final phase of the race. With just 40 miles to go, sailing into Stormy Bay, the vang wrenched away from the mast. And then just 10 miles from the finish, as the maxi entered the Derwent River in 30 knots breeze, a wayward running backstay caught the top batten pocket and wrenched the batten out of the sail. The mainsail was now beginning to flog, and the crew were forced to lower the sail and limp to the line under jib alone. In fact, such is the efficiency of this amazing boat, that 'limp' was scarcely the word to describe her majestic progress, as Wild Oats continued to make 12 knots into the wind with just one sail flying.

Helmsman Mark Richards raised his fist aloft in victory as he helmed the Reichel/Pugh 98-foot maxi across the Hobart finish line just 10 seconds past 8 o'clock in the morning. Not only had Bob Oatley's team taken line honours, but they had set a new time of 1 day, 18 hours and 10 minutes for the 628-mile course. They had shattered the Volvo Ocean 60 Nokia's longstanding record by more than an hour.

'Huge, huge relief,' was Richards' breathless reaction to winning line honours. 'We sailed a pretty flawless race. The fact that we had problems in the last ten miles is a shame, but that's ocean racing.' Alfa Romeo reached Hobart just over an hour behind Wild Oats, and Neville Crichton couldn't disguise his anguish at missing line honours. 'They outsmarted us,' he admitted dockside. 'We gave it our best shot. We've beaten them in six out of seven races so far, they've beaten us one. But this was the important one.'

Some hours later, the other three maxis reached Hobart. Skandia was third across the line, despite having suffered an engine breakdown and being forced to lock her canting keel in the centre. Konica Minolta was next, and had had a trouble-free race. AAPT broke her boom and sailed the last hundred miles without it. Whatever problems they may have had, however, the wind was at least playing in favour of the big boats. The maxis escaped the worst of a light patch, which was slowing the progress of the small and mid-sized boats in Bass Strait. As the fleet moved further south, they would then encounter winds up to 40 knots.

Quantum Racing is a DK46 that in a 'normal' Rolex Sydney Hobart Race would be expected to do well on handicap. Despite impeccable boat preparation, along with victory in the Rolex Trophy during the build-up to this race, Ray Roberts could not get close to Wild Oats's handicap time. 'I don't think we could have sailed a much better course than we did,' said Roberts, 'but the hard reaching and running doesn't suit this boat and that's why we weren't up in the money for this race.'

Like nearly every boat, Quantum Racing had her moments of trouble. 'One of our steering cables broke, and we did a few 360-degree circles in the middle of Bass Strait while we tried to set up some temporary steering. We laid the boat over and trashed a spinnaker while we tried to fix it. That incident dampened our spirits a bit, but the boys did a good job of getting things up and working again.'

For the most part, the conditions were kinder than the average Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, evidence
Kilwell - 1Burk - Marine OutletBIA 2016 Sydney Boat Show 660x82

Related Articles

Rio 2016 - The Qualification Games - Part 2
Yachting NZ's refusal to nominate in three classes won in the first round of 2016 Olympic Qualification is unprecedented Yachting New Zealand's refusal to nominate in three classes won in the first round of 2016 Olympic Qualification is without precedent. Subject to Appeal, the Kiwis have signaled that they will reject 30% of the positions gained in the ISAF World Sailing Championships in Santander in 2014.
Posted on 22 May
Gladwell's Line - World Sailing changes tack after IOC windshift
Over the past year, we've given the International Sailing Federation (now re-badged as World Sailing) a bit of stick Over the past year, we've given the International Sailing Federation (now re-badged as World Sailing) a bit of stick. Every blow well earned over issues such as the pollution at Rio, the Israeli exclusion abomination plus a few more. But now World Sailing is getting it right.
Posted on 21 May
Rio 2016 - The Qualification Games - Part 1
Antipodean selection shenanigans aside, the Qualification system for the Rio Olympics appears to be achieving its goals Antipodean selection shenanigans aside, the Qualification system for the Rio Olympics appears to be achieving goals set in the Olympic Commission report of 2010. Around 64 countries are expected to be represented in Rio de Janeiro in August. That is a slight increase on Qingdao and Weymouth, but more importantly a full regional qualification system is now in place
Posted on 19 May
Taming the beast-a conversation with Stuart Meurer of Parker Hannifin
While AC72 cats were fast, they difficult to control, so Oracle partnered with Parker Hannifin to innovate a better way. If you watched videos of the AC72s racing in the 34th America’s Cup (2013), you’re familiar with the mind-boggling speeds that are possible when wingsail-powered catamarans switch from displacement sailing to foiling mode. While foiling is fast, there’s no disguising the platform’s inherent instability. Now, Oracle Team USA has teamed up with Parker Hannifin to innovate a better way.
Posted on 18 May
From foiling Moths to Olympic starting lines-a Q&A with Bora Gulari
Bora Gulari’s is representing the USA at the Rio 2016 Olympics in the Nacra 17 class, along with teammate Louisa Chafee. Bora Gulari (USA) has made a strong name for himself within high-performance sailing circles, with wins at the 2009 and 2013 Moth Worlds. In between, he broke the 30-knort barrier and was the 2009 US SAILING Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. His latest challenge is representing the USA at the Rio 2016 Olympics in the Nacra 17 class as skipper, along with his teammate Louisa Chafee.
Posted on 12 May
Concern for Zika at Rio Olympics is now deadly serious
Alphabet soup is one description that has thus far not been used for either Guanabara Bay, Alphabet soup is one description that has thus far not been used for either Guanabara Bay, or the Rio Olympics. Many others have, and they were apt, but things have changed. So here now we have a situation where one man, Associate Professor Amir Attaran, who does have a more than decent string of letters after his name, is bringing nearly as many facts to bear as references at the article's end
Posted on 12 May
The importance of being Alive
Since buying the stunningly pretty Reichel-Pugh canting keel 66-footer, and re-naming her Alive, Since buying the stunningly pretty Reichel-Pugh canting keel 66-footer, and re-naming her Alive, the team have lined up for a lot of things, won plenty and nabbed a record, as well. She’s presently in a yard in the Philippines having a minor refit in readiness for the Australian season. It will commence with the upcoming Brisbane to Keppel and then head sharply into this year’s Hobart.
Posted on 10 May
Hoisted on their own petard
Now it was not that long ago that we wondered if there were some genuinely Shakespearean elements beginning to appear... Now it was not that long ago that we wondered if there were some genuinely Shakespearean elements beginning to appear in World Sailing’s premier event, the Sailing World Cup. In that time, a flurry of material has espoused all manner of joyous points including travel grants and prize money. That’s terrific and the hope is that somehow this will overcome the tyranny of distance for Melbourne
Posted on 9 May
Zhik - The brand born of a notion, not its history
here is probably every reason that ocean rhymes with notion. Zhik’s tagline is officially marketed as Made For Water There is probably every reason that ocean rhymes with notion. Zhik’s tagline has been officially marketed as Made For Water, and this is precisely what the company has done for the last eight years before the succinct and apt strapline came from out of R&D and into mainstream visibility.
Posted on 8 May
So, thou doth protest too much, me thinks
And no, we’re not off to analyse Hamlet right away. There’ll be no surtitles popping up on the top of your screen And no, we’re not off to analyse Hamlet right away. There’ll be no surtitles popping up on the top of your screen about now. At any rate, it is simply an adaptation of Lady Gertrude’s original line. We merely seek to use it as a way to demonstrate that when there is a lot of brouhaha going on, the smoke screen ultimately ends up as a lovely, colourful flag as to the real intent behind it.
Posted on 4 May