by Rob Mundle
In the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2013, apart from a superbly skilful effort by the crew and magnificent preparation, there were three other elements that contributed to Wild Oats XI’s record-equalling seventh line honours.
Surfing to Hobart: Wild Oats XI reached more than 30 knots off Tasmania’s east coast during the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2013
When the 30-metre long, eight-year-old thoroughbred racing yacht docked in Hobart late yesterday to the cheering and applause of more than 5000 elated onlookers, skipper Mark Richards was quick to recognise the contribution of one particular person – the yacht’s 85-year-old owner, Bob Oatley, who is as legendary in winemaking as he is in sailing. Oatley, who also owns Australia’s premier tropical island resort, Hamilton Island, is the man who will be behind Australia’s next challenge for the America’s Cup: his Hamilton Island Yacht Club was recently recognised as the ‘Challenger of Record’ for the match.
Oatley was so chuffed by Wild Oats XI’s success late yesterday, he declared to the waiting throng of media on Constitution Dock in Hobart that ‘the old girl’ will be back next year to try for an eighth line honours.
Wild Oats XI was still a metre from the dock when Richards leapt ashore to share the excitement of the moment with Bob Oatley.
Richards immediately paid high praise to his remarkable crew. He then created intrigue when he told the media there were three other factors that helped the yacht to success – the voodoo stick, chicken pies and the ‘ironing board’.
The chicken and white wine pies, made by Bob Oatley’s granddaughter, Nicky, were considered to be vital to the crew’s nutrition during the 2 days 6 hours 7 minutes and 27 seconds they were at sea (a time that was almost 12 hours outside the race record mark set by Wild Oats XI last year).
The ‘voodoo stick’ was Bob Oatley’s favourite walking stick – a specially-made carbon fibre job which has a small model of Wild Oats XI’s hull forming the handle. He handed it over to Richards and the crew in Sydney as a symbol of his presence in the 628 nautical mile race, and as a good luck charm – and that it was.
The ‘voodoo stick’: Wild Oats XI skipper, Mark Richards, shows off the ‘voodoo stick’, after the yacht claimed line honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart race 2013
When the Wild Oats XI crew found themselves 12 nautical miles behind the then race leader, Perpetual Loyal (Anthony Bell), on the first morning at sea, veteran crew member, Steve Jarvin, brought the ‘voodoo stick’ into play. The moment Perpetual Loyal appeared on the horizon ahead he aimed it the yacht, saying, ‘There’s the target’.
It worked! By late afternoon Wild Oats XI had drawn clear of Perpetual Loyal, and when she rounded Tasman Island, at the entrance to Storm Bay, she had surfed her way to a lead of more than 50 nautical miles.
It was when the north-easterly wind increased to 30 knots, and Wild Oats XI began surfing down powerful Tasman Sea swells, that the ‘ironing board’ – the yacht’s new hydrofoil wing, which was fitted to the hull especially for this race – was seen to provide the much-hoped for speed increase.
'When we extended the wing out to leeward the bow lifted and there was a noticeable increase in speed,' Mark Richards said. 'It was really exciting to see.'
The concept for the ‘ironing board’ came from Bob Oatley’s son, Sandy. It was the result of an exhaustive search for a way to stop the yacht from nose-diving when surfing down short, steep seas, as were encountered yesterday.
Sandy Oatley said this morning that he will now investigate the possibility of further developing the concept. He plans to share data from his research with the English yacht design organisation, Dynamic Stability Systems.
A Happy Man: Bob Oatley, with wine in hand, along with family and friends, salutes Wild Oats XI at the finish of the Rolex Sydney Hobart race 2013
Last night the Wild Oats crew celebrated their victory with the Oatley family and 50 supporters at a dinner in Hobart. When the dinner was finished the majority of the crew then made the traditional pilgrimage to the famous Customs House Hotel, on the Hobart waterfront, so the party could continue.