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Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2012 - Wild Oats XI banks on long preparation

by Rob Mundle on 23 Dec 2012
XI, WILD OATS XI, Sail No: 10001, Owner: Mark Richards, Design: Reichel/Pugh 30 Mtr, LOA (m): 30.5, State: NSW Rolex Sydney Hobart
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2012 will be the culmination of a nine-month programme for the designers and crew of Wild Oats XI in their attempt to make history in Australia’s premier offshore ocean racing classic.

In that time she has also set impressive course record times in the Sydney-Gold Coast race, and the recent Cabbage Tree Island race, and been put to the test at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week.

It has been an enormous effort for just one reason: the pursuit of line honours in this year’s Hobart race.
Wild Oats XI’s 84-year-old owner, Bob Oatley, is a highly experienced campaigner who knows the importance of perfect preparation. Unfortunately a medical condition prevents him from being aboard for such an arduous race, but everything he does to ready the 30-metre long supermaxi for the contest is done as though he is going to be sailing.

This year Wild Oats XI is going for a record sixth line honours in eight starts in the 628-nautical-mile race. Last year Oatley watched with a high level of frustration when Investec Loyal claimed line honours by just over three minutes from Wild Oats XI; and while he saluted the winners and thanked his crew for their admirable effort he already knew what needed to be done to make his yacht faster: changes had to be made to improve her speed in light winds.



After considerable design analysis, both in the water and out, Wild Oats XI was taken from the water for four months and disassembled so everything could be checked, and modifications made. The major changes were the addition of a retractable fin near the bow, and drag-reducing winglets fitted to the 12-tonne lead keel bulb. These were designed at a Boeing facility in America.

Crewman John Hildebrand, who is also the yacht’s Shore Manager, supervised proceedings. While the modifications were being made to the hull, Wild oats XI’s ultra-light C6 carbon fibre rigging was removed from the mast and shipped to America for checking, just to ensure it had no flaws; all winches were disassembled and serviced, and every part of the canting keel system was overhauled.

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The knife-like, heat-treated high-tensile steel keel fin was sent away for ultrasound and x-ray checks to make sure there were no signs faults in the metal, and the hydraulic ram system which swings the keel from one side to the other when the yacht tacks, was overhauled. This ram is so powerful it is capable of lifting a Boeing 747 jumbo jet off the ground.

Now, when Wild Oats XI starts in the Rolex Sydney Hobart race at 1pm on Boxing Day, skipper Mark Richards and his 18 crew will know that the yacht could not be better prepared for what is reputedly one of the world’s toughest ocean racing challenges. From that point it will be up to the crew to get the yacht to Hobart ahead of the fleet. Even so, the crew knows an element of luck won’t go astray – like favourable wind shifts and avoiding semi-submerged objects.

The latest weather forecast from yachting meteorologist Roger Badham indicates that during the past 24 hours the weather pendulum has swung more in favour of a race record time for the line honours yacht this year. On current projections Wild Oats XI could be entering Bass Strait as early as 6am on Thursday and hold record breaking pace from there to the finish, however much will depend on the timing of a southerly change which will sweep across Tasmania late Thursday or early Friday.

Wild Oats XI will be assisted by a highly experienced crew. The youngest crew member is 33-year-old round the world sailor Scott Beavis. Cockpit-hand Steve Jarvin will be going for an unprecedented 11th line honours win while co-navigator – and mother of two – Adrienne Cahalan will be making her 21st start in the classic – a record for any female competitor.

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