by Rob Mundle
The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge gets underway on Sydney Harbour tomorrow. Australian Olympic Gold Medalist, and the International Sailing Federation’s World Sailor of the Year, Matt Belcher, will step into a new world tomorrow when he joins the crew of Rolex Sydney Hobart race record holder, Wild Oats XI.
Wild Oats XI at full speed while crossing Bass Strait during her record-breaking run in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2012. The new hydrofoil wing will help lift her bow over waves in the 2013 event.
The Big Boat Challenge is a curtain raiser for some of the largest and fastest yachts contesting the 628 nautical mile Rolex Sydney Hobart race, which starts on Boxing Day, December 26.
This year’s Big Boat Challenge will see the first-ever showdown between the two 30-metre long supermaxis which are considered to be the fastest in the world – Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI, and Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal. Wild Oats XI will be going for her seventh line honours in the Challenge, and will be hunting for a record-equalling seventh line honours win in the Hobart race. Perpetual Loyal, which has a string of impressive victories in the northern hemisphere to her credit, will be making her racing debut in Australian waters.
'The Solas Big Boat Challenge is an excellent test for the crew as we prepare for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race,' Wild Oats XI skipper, Mark Richards, said today. 'However, regardless of the result, it can’t be considered a guide for the big race to Hobart because they are two very different contests. The good thing is that because of the intense nature of the course inside Sydney Harbour, there will be no room for error tomorrow: the race demands flawless crew work.'
Tomorrow’s event will be a big step-up for Matt Belcher, who in recent years has dominated the world in 4.7 metre long Olympic 470 dinghy class. Last weekend he re-wrote world sailing history when he secured his 17th consecutive major regatta victory in the class. It was crewman Will Ryan’s 10th straight regatta victory.
'It will be great to be aboard Wild Oats XI with some of the best offshore sailors in the world,' Belcher said. 'I’ve never sailed aboard any yacht so large and so fast. The power and speed of Wild Oats XI is amazing. It will be really interesting to see how it all works.'
Despite having been released from hospital just three days ago, Wild Oats XI’s owner, 85-year-old Bob Oatley, plans to be aboard the yacht tomorrow, and his intention is to steer his yacht for much of the race.
'I’m really looking forward to the Big Boat Challenge,' Bob Oatley said. 'We’ve done a lot to the yacht to improve her speed in preparation for the Rolex Sydney Hobart race, so I’m keen to see how she performs.'
After being out of action for two weeks while a fractured section of her new mast was repaired, Wild Oats XI returned to racing last weekend with an impressive line honours victory, and race record time, for the 118 nautical mile Port Hacking – Bird Island race out of Sydney.
The 2013 SOLAS Big Boat Challenge will start off Steele Point, Vaucluse, at 12.30pm tomorrow. The 14 nautical mile course will take the fleet of 14 yachts twice around Sydney Harbour, before finishing off Opera House.