Rolex Sydney Hobart Race - Superb downwind sailing for Wild Oats XI

Wild Oats XI sails south soon after the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2013 on Boxing Day.
Andrea Francolini
In the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race 2013, after the 30-metre long supermaxi regained the lead mid-afternoon today, Tom Addis, the navigator of Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI said, 'The old girl still has good legs.'

Even so, the champion yacht’s skipper Mark Richards, and his highly talented afterguard, were far from being boastful about their yacht’s grand achievement during the day.

After leading the 94-yacht fleet into the first night at sea, Wild Oats XI – which has just had her eighth birthday – fell into a giant trap of light wind off the NSW south coast. As a result she quickly surrendered her advantage, and by 5am today she was 10 nautical miles astern of her similar sized arch rival, Perpetual Loyal (Anthony Bell).

However, after what Addis described as a day of superb downwind sailing by the Wild Oats XI team, the defending line honours champion and two-time handicap winner had caught Perpetual Loyal and drawn three nautical miles ahead. It was an impressive effort over a 10 hour period.

They were only 200 metres abeam of Perpetual Loyal when they regained the lead mid-Bass Strait, and while there was no banter between the two crews, one crewman aboard Wild Oats XI did take the opportunity to point their good luck charm – 85-year-old Bob Oatley’s carbon Fibre walking stick – at their rival in the hope that it continued to bring Wild Oats XI good fortune.

With their yacht back in front, the experienced Wild Oats XI crew was quick to remind themselves that, with only half the 628 nautical mile course having been covered, a line honours victory was far from certain. It would not come easily.

'Conditions are going to be exceptionally tricky through until about 2am tomorrow,' Addis said late today. 'We really are going to have to keep our wits about us during the dark hours if we are going to continue to lead the fleet through to daylight tomorrow.

'I’m expecting a light north easterly wind to develop before sunrise and strengthen during the day, and that should suit us. But, as we all know when it comes to a Hobart race, only time will tell.'

Addis said that many of the 20-man crew had been sleeping during the afternoon so they could be on deck and fully alert throughout the entire night ahead.

He said his current projection was for a finish time of around 4pm tomorrow – but that would depend on the wind strength and direction over the remainder of the course.