by Rob Mundle
Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race gets underway in less than 10 days, December 26th 2013. When Bob Oatley’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Race record holder, the 30-metre long supermaxi, Wild Oats XI, was lifted from the waters of Sydney Harbour today it became very apparent why the yacht is now referred to affectionately as ‘The Swiss Army Knife’.
Wild Oats XI crewman, Nathan Ellis, shows off the yacht’s radical new carbon fibre, hydrofoil wing - Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2013
Extending from the hull below the waterline were five appendages of varying shapes and sizes, and protruding out to one side at the waterline was the latest addition – a radical, carbon fibre, wing-like hydrofoil which it is hoped will provide the speed needed to achieve a record-equalling seventh line honours in the 628 nautical mile Hobart classic, which starts on Boxing Day.
The concept is another world-first for 85-year-old Oatley, who more than a decade ago introduced the now universally accepted canting keel to this particular facet of international ocean racing.
Letting it all hang out: Wild Oats XI is taken from the water at Woolwich Dock with all foils fully extended - Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2013
The wing is a development of a concept designed by English company, Dynamic Stability Systems which primarily assists a yacht’s stability. The system fitted to Wild Oats XI has been created to provide hydrofoil-type lift to the forward sections of the yacht so drag is reduced and speed increased.
It has only been during the past 10 days that Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark Richards, and his crew, have had the wind conditions needed to fully test the wing – and they are elated by the results.
'This year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Race is going to be one of the most keenly contested in recent times, for both line and handicap honours,' Richards said today. 'Wild Oats XI has just had her eighth birthday, so we had to do something to give the old girl a new lease of life. I think this wing will do it, especially if we get fast downwind conditions during the race.'
Richards explained that the wing will come into effect when the yacht achieves 18 knots boat speed. At that speed the foil – which is fully enclosed within the hull when not in use – will be extended more than two metres out to the leeward side. When fully extended it will provide between eight and 10 tonnes lift to the forward sections of the yacht.
'The trial results were quite remarkable,' Richards said. 'There was an impressive increase in speed. We’re not getting too carried away, but from what we have seen, if we get the right conditions in the Hobart race the wing might make the difference.'
Wild Oats XI has three other retractable foils below the waterline – two daggerboards and a shallow centerboard at the bow, which is used for upwind sailing in light conditions. She also features a canting keel and a permanent rudder at the stern.