Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - Downwind drag race for Wild Oats XI

Close inspection: Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark Richards, checks the yacht’s 12-tonne ballast bulb which is fitted to the canting keel. The yacht is out of the water this week for a final pre-race inspection - Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2013
Andrea Francolini
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race gets underway in eight days time on Boxing Day, and while yachting meteorologist Roger Badham’s crystal ball is still a little fuzzy, the crew of Bob Oatley’s champion yacht, the 30-metre supermaxi, Wild Oats XI, are liking what he’s telling them.

Badham says that if he had to make a prediction today it would be for a relatively fast downwind race.

'Generally, it is looking like a downhill race for the first 24 to 36 hours,' Badham said.

However, he tempered his thoughts on the weather for the race by adding: 'This is an outlook, and not forecast – the difference being that the outlook is fuzzy and vague and the forecast tries to be definitive!'

Sydney-based Badham, who is recognised as one of the world’s preeminent yachting meteorologists, expects to release his first weather forecast for the race tomorrow.

Should his current outlook prove to be accurate, this year’s Hobart classic could have shades of the famous 1975 race when the American Jim Kilroy’s maxi ketch, Kialoa, set a course record time that stood for 21-years. Her time was 2 days, 14 hours, 36 minutes, 56 seconds. A new record race record mark has been set on only four occasions over the 37 years since then.

Last year Wild Oats XI established a new mark: 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds.

'It’s early days, but the signs are that it could be an exciting downwind race for the big boats,' said Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark ‘Ricko’ Richards. 'It’s the actual direction and strength of the wind that will decide the result. If it’s downwind then we will be a chance to beat our arch rival, Perpetual Loyal, but if it’s reaching across the wind it will possibly be a different story, particularly if the wind is strong.

'It’s going to be an interesting few days for everyone as we watch the weather pattern for the race unfold. The only thing for certain right now is that this is going to be the most challenging and exciting Hobart race in a long, long time.'
It’s a common held belief among Hobart race sailors that, given ideal conditions, a supermaxi, or something similar, could reach Hobart in around 24 hours.

Wild Oats XI, which was launched in December 2005, is the most successful yacht to have contested the 628 nautical mile Rolex Sydney Hobart race in its 69 year history, and Richards the most successful skipper. The sleek, silver-hulled sloop has six line honours, two race records and two victories on handicap to her credit. Should Wild Oats XI be first to finish this year she will equal the record of seven line honours which was achieved by Morna (later renamed Kurrewa IV) over 14 years – between 1946 and 1960.