by Rob Kothe
Mike Slade’s Super heavy super-maxi City Index Leopard, will be hoping for a different Boxing Day weather forecast to her three Rolex Sydney Hobart 98 foot, (30 metre) super maxi rivals.
Leopard 3 - "City Index" during practice sailing in Sydney before the 2007 Rolex Sydney-Hobart - Sydney (AUS) - (left) Chris Sherlock, captain and Mike Slade (owner at the helm)
While Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI, the winner of the last two Hobart races, Ben Buckley’s NZL entry Maximus and Grant Wharington’s 2003 Hobart winner Skandia are comparatively lightweight fliers, all under 30 tonnes in weight, but the Leopard is much more muscled at 45 tones.
The three lightweights were pleased by the suggestions from Australia's leading yachting meteorologist, Roger Badham, some 16 days before the start was a high chance that the leaders will have an extremely fast run down the NSW south coast, across Bass Strait and at least as far as the northeastern coast of Tasmania,'
However the Britisher Slade is looking for classical Hobart weather, with the usual two fronts blasting the fleet. Confident in his boat he will be looking for the wildest seas and strongest winds offshore.
'She is big, wide and strong,' said Slade of his 30-metre yacht. 'We are prepared to risk going offshore to get more speed.'
Slade believes the 628 nautical mile race for line honours would be between Leopard, Maximus and Wild Oats XI and that he had dismissed Skandia in his initial calculations even though improvements had been made to its keel, because 'you can't cover everybody'.
Reacting to Mike Slade's dismissal of his Skandia as a major threat, the Australian owne4r skipper Grant Wharington was measured in his response.
‘Mike might get a bit of a surprise, when he gets out on to the race track. ...
He will be surprised by the performance of the other three boats; they are all around 30 tonnes, compared to his 45 tonnes.
'We've already been down that path a couple of years ago, with a heavy keel and hull found the configuration that Leopard is going to have very slow.
'Obviously we are the oldest boat there, and I am sure Mike would like to think that his boat is much faster than us, but I think it’s a little early to make that call.
'We can only go on performances so far. Rambler, (Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo, the R/P 90) beat Leopard to Fastnet Rock and she only beat the smaller boat home by around an hour and a half.
Skandia heads up harbour - SOLAS Big Boat Challenge
We lined uo against them in a reduced sail configuration at the Big Boat, they had smaller sails and we had delivery sails, but we blew them off the track, but they were still pressed, so that was interesting.
'Maximus has a cracked hull and is limping towards Sydney. I hope they fix that in time, she is going to be very fast, there is no doubt about that, if she hangs together.
I heard about the betting card with Oats at 1.75, Leopard 3.50, Maximus at 6.00 and us at 8.50 – I an not a betting man but right now I think we are pretty good value.'