Sneaking softly back into the maxi yacht scene with Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honours its primary goal, is a sinister, powerful looking yacht.
Grant Wharington’s 30 metre Wild Thing, painted black from the hull to the boom and then right up to the top of the massive 41 metre mast, projects an alluring image of power. Combine this image with a determined skipper and a trimmed down program, and what you see is a lean, mean, potential line honours killing machine.
Wharington finally has the keys to Wild Thing back in his pocket, delivered today. The yacht has been languishing at Rivergate in Brisbane for the last 11 months. Actually, earlier in the year the yacht did spend a few months on the hard being repaired after a pontoon, from up the Brisbane River, punched a hole in its stern as the late January flood waters raged down the river.
Wild Thing was designed by Don Jones, built by Hart Marine in Melbourne and launched in 2003. The yacht has had a chequered Sydney Hobart Yacht Race history. Her first race in 2003 was a crowning moment for the Skandia sponsored team taking out line honours. It was then a dramatic year in 2004 when the keel was lost and the boat capsized in the Tasman Sea. Back on the water and in the race in 2005 and 2006, Wild Thing finished third both times. In 2007 the team limped into Hobart to finish 10th after the top of the mast snapped during a broach. Then in 2008 they battled Wild Oats to finish second on line. Sadly their race in 2009 Wharington pulled the pin on the race not long after the start stating he was uncomfortable with the state of the rigging.
In 2010 the yacht returned to its former name, Wild Thing, and headed south again, but not before almost collecting a race media boat which hung around their bow for just a moment too long. Safely across the line in Hobart and the team finished fifth.
During the last seven years the yacht has undergone several changes to its keel. Built originally with a 4.8 metres fin, then modified to 5.2 metres in 2005 and then again to 5.5 metres in 2006, in 2009 Wharington ordered a radical increase to keel taking the hollow fin to 6.8 metres draft, over a metre deeper than his Hobart rivals.
This, Wharington claims, effectively gave the yacht the upper hand against Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI and Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal by making Wild Thing about four tonnes lighter than Wild Oats and six tonnes lighter than Loyal. The only problem with the latest keel change is that Wharington still doesn’t feel that the maximum performance has been achieved as yet. 'The yacht really hasn’t been tested with the new keel. We know we are very fast downwind and reaching, and running we are at least as fast as Wild Oats and Loyal. Upwind we are probably a little bit slower, but that’s okay. Every yacht has got to have its point of difference.'
Previously carrying impressive Wild Thing and then sponsor branding, the yacht has now been repainted, getting rid of the scrappy look which it carried at the start of last year’s Hobart race. 'The yacht needed a complete rebirth and in anticipation of getting another sponsor we wanted it to have a good background for a sponsor’s name and logo. So we thought no one has an all-black yacht. There are plenty of silver ones out there and a couple of white ones, so we figured we might as well go something a bit different.
'It's the perfect blank canvas, ready for a new sponsor,' Wharington said.
Other changes to the yacht in preparation for the 67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race have been to reduce crew numbers back to the bare minimum and to strip the yacht of extra sails.
Wild Thing will race with 10 crew. Wharington, now based on the Gold Coast, will lead a national team. Navigator and tactician will be former 18 Foot Skiff sailing champion and another now Queenslander, David Witt. In the middle will be Australian Sports Boat champion Paul Hayes, Sydney’s Matt Pearce and Peter Davis, Welsh sailor Led Pritchard and Adelaide’s John Fisher. On the mainsheet will be Perth’s 49er class sailor Tom Johnson who will be slipping in a performance in the ISAF Worlds in early December before joining the Wild Thing team. On the bow will be another young 49er class sailor from Perth, Luke Parkinson. One other crew member is still to be announced.
The choice of 10 crew, which Witt advised has been endorsed by Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's (CYCA) Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Committee Chai, Tim Cox, has been carefully thought out by Wharington and Witt. 'We figure that each crew member weighs about 250kg with their wet-weather gear, food, water and safety gear. Wild Oats will carry 18 crew and Loyal will carry 24. We will carry just 10,' Witt said.
Wharington has also decided to race with only two jibs and two spinnakers. They will carry a jib on the main forestay which can be reefed, a heavier jib on the baby forestay, a downwind code zero and an A2 spinnaker. He expects this sail combination will save them a ton less of deadweight in sails on board. 'If you talk about the sailing weight of both yachts, we are probably around six tons lighter than Wild Oats which is a huge amount – that is about 20% lighter.' That is the sort of difference that could make, or break, a line honours performance.
The Queensland team, representing Southport Yacht Club, will be on the water training tomorrow before heading down to the Sydney in time for the CYCA's SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on the 13th December