Blasting up the harbour - SOLAS Big Boat Challenge
Certainly a line honours win of one and a half minutes over Skandia would indeed have been enjoyable for Mark Richards, the skipper of Wild Oats XI. There is little doubt that the uncertainty over the reasons for the loss of Wild Oats' mast earlier this year has proved unsettling for Richards and his team, so today’s successful, breezy sprint around Sydney Harbour in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge would have helped settle the nerves a little.
'It was nerve racking; we had new sails and there was a fair bit of breeze, but in the end it was a really enjoyable sail'.
The Skandia team may have been beaten into second place but when you bear in mind the boat’s relative age and the fact that they raced the course with delivery sails, this too was a confidence-building performance.
These Supermaxis seem to run their own version of the Biggest Loser, constantly shedding excess weight with each new season. Wild Oats XI sports a taller and lighter upper body these days and Skandia is now 1.5 tonnes lighter, having slimmed down her fin to match the lighter bulb fitted last year.
Ichi Ban is no slim thing but she was the surprise performer of the day. Barely back in the water for a week she suffered a complete electronics breakdown at the start. The only boat to choose the eastern shore she picked up good pressure and crossed the entire fleet to lead around the fist mark at Shark Island.
Not surprisingly the supermaxis soon overran Ichi Ban, but she was to enjoy a fine upwind battle with the American TP 52 Rosebud, which subsequently won the race on handicap.
Rosebud’s owner Roger Sturgeon clearly enjoyed the day, declaring he was always happy to race for charities 'better still SOLAS is a charity that is going to help me' he quipped, adding 'isn’t there a conflict of interest there somewhere?'
For others the day proved indeed to be a big boat challenge.
Hugo Boss had a bad hair day. Initially she suffered a jammed steering line approaching Shark Island 'that island looks a whole lot bigger when you’re heading at it with your steering locked' observed skipper Andy Tourell.
Then, having solved that problem in clearer water the masthead mainsail lock gave out and the mainsail started to head for the deck. Throughout it all the boat’s guests for the day, models Erika Heynatz and Annalise Braakensiek, retained bemused smiles for the cameras.
It used to be said that changing the name of a boat was bad luck. But the advent of sponsors sees yachts changing names with every shift of wind direction. Nonetheless, the old superstition still seemed to have traction for Spirit of Queensland (formerly Scooter, AAPT, Xena etc), breaking her bow sprit on the Wedding Cake mark.
You would no more compare the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge and The Rolex Sydney Hobart Race than you would relate a Test match to a Twenty Twenty hit and giggle, but like cricket’s short form game today’s race provided plenty of spectator entertainment in the run-up to the real Boxing Day test.