Rolex Sydney to Hobart - Wild Oats XI receives clean bill of health

On the pace: Wild Oats XI can expect some fast sailing conditions in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.
Andrea Francolini
Bob Oatley’s Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race record holder, the 30-metre long supermaxi Wild Oats XI, went back into the water today with a clean bill of health, after being out of the water at Woolwich Dock for a thorough going-over for four days.

'She’s race-ready,' said the yacht’s shore manager, and crew member, John Hildebrand. 'We’ve been over her from bow to stern, the top of the mast to the bottom of the keel. We’ve also polished the entire underwater surface so she is as smooth as glass.'

Tomorrow morning the 20-man crew, led by skipper Mark Richards, will do an exhaustive final sailing trial off Sydney Heads in preparation for the start of the 628-nautical mile Hobart race at 1pm on Boxing Day.

With that sailing exercise complete, the crew will spend the next few days at the dock putting aboard all the equipment and provisions that will be needed for the race. However, it won’t be until the morning of the race that the final decision will be made on what sails the yacht will carry.

'Going on the race weather forecast we are seeing, the overall weight of Wild Oats XI will be critical when it comes to speed,' Mark Richards said. 'All the signs are that it will be a downwind race for most of the way. If that is the case, we don’t want to be carrying any excess weight, including sails.'

Richards and Wild Oats XI’s highly skilled afterguard – tactician Iain Murray, strategist, Ian ‘Fresh’ Burns, navigator and on-board weatherman, Tom Addis, and reserve helmsman Stu Bannatyne – are anxiously watching the weather pattern for the race evolve.

They are pleased to see that the prediction remains for a primarily downwind race where the fleet will not be able to sail directly down the rhumb line – the direct course from Sydney to Tasman Island, at the entrance to Tasmania’s Storm Bay. A zig-zag course down the coast should suit Wild Oats XI and possibly not some of her strongest challengers for line honours.

Also, the forecast indicates that Wild Oats XI’s speed should exceed 18 knots for much of the time, and that means the hydrofoil wing that has been fitted to the yacht to increase downwind speed, will be used.

Bob Oatley – who at age 85 has declared he is too old to be aboard the yacht for the race – and his son, Sandy, who came up with the concept for the hydrofoil, will be watching anxiously for signs that the wing is working. Early indications are that this latest of six underwater appendages Wild Oats XI carries will increase the downwind speed in favourable conditions by at least 10 per cent.

Tom Addis said yesterday that the current weather outlook indicated a record breaking run to Hobart was still a possibility. Wild Oats XI set the current mark when she took line honours in the classic last year: 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds.