There's but one U.S. entry in the fleet, but it's a formidable one. Roger Sturgeon's Farr-designed STP 65 Rosebud has been taking names and kicking butt since her arrival Down Under, racking up IRC handicap victories in both of the big round-the-cans events leading up to the main event, the SOLAS Big Boat regatta and the Rolex Trophy Series. With a win in the Hobart Race, Rosebud could register her very own special Triple Crown.
In what has mostly been a drab, dreary start to the Australian summer, the sun made a brief cameo appearance last week, and the lunchtime scene at Sydney's Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) was hopping. As barmen poured 'middies' and 'schooners' of Victoria Bitter, the business crowd in their natty attire lounged like lizards beneath the rays on the back patio.
On the docks, however, there was an entirely different sort of buzz. There, crewmen in T-shirts and sailing shorts tended to sails, hardware, and other matters on the gathering fleet of race boats in preparation for an annual Aussie holiday rite: the Boxing Day (December 26) start of the 628-mile Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race.
Bob Oatley’s 30-meter maxi Wild Oats XI, is looking to match the race record of three straight line-honors victories (the boat also holds the race record of 1d, 18h, 14m, 10s, set in 2005). It won't be easy, as there are three other maxis in the race, all of which are hoping and scheming to be the first to Hobart.
Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard, Wharington's Skandia, and the New Zealand entry Maximus (which dropped her rig last year on the first morning at sea and may scratch this year, too, after suffering an 8-inch crack in her keel on the delivery from Auckland), all have the power, and the all-star crews, to topple Oatley's dreams of a trifecta.
'In a lot of conditions, Wild Oats is a very quick boat,' said Commodore Matt Allen. 'But if we get the usual conditions you see going to Hobart, I'd probably put my money on Leopard.' All that said, Allen's not conceding anything to the Big Boys, and he's even considered the idea for his own modified Volvo 70 Ichi Ban to crash the party of the so-called 'Battle of the Titans.'
'Look, you normally expect to cop a front at some point,' he said. 'We'd probably like quite heavy running conditions (at the beginning), followed by a strong front. So you extend on all the boats behind you and then they throw a bit of heavy weather at the boats out in front, see how they all go.'
After departing the city's amazing harbor through the prominent Sydney Heads, the opening stages down the New South Wales coastline--boosted by a southerly current of up to four knots--can be quick and rewarding or dramatic and painful, depending on which way the wind's blowing. Like Allen, everyone hopes for the big early northerly.
The next obstacle is the aforementioned Bass Strait, also known as 'the paddock,' a relatively shallow body of water that's been known to test the hardiest of sailors. The third leg takes the racers down the east coast of Tasmania before they finally make their way up the Derwent River to the finish line off Hobart's historic Battery Point.
To read Herb's full blog go to http://forums.sailingworld.com/blogs/?q=node/113