December 13 on Sydney Harbour the country’s mightiest maxi yachts will rule supreme for the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual SOLAS Big Boat Challenge.
Up to 20 of these V8s of ocean racing will gather off Steele Point, Vaucluse, for the 12.30pm start of the 18th edition of sailing’s most popular spectacle in the lead up to the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, which will start in the same vicinity 13 days later.
The tight 14 nautical mile course will take the fleet around the harbour two-and-a-half times, passing many of Sydney’s famous landmarks including Fort Denison, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Sydney Opera House, which backdrops the finish line.
It might be a fun race in the eyes of many, but when the course is laid, the countdown clock begins, the TV helicopters buzz overhead and the adrenaline kicks in, the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge becomes a one-of-a-kind gladiatorial contest.
Bob Oatley’s silver sleek 100 footer Wild Oats XI has taken the chequered flag four times in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge and being 1.54 tons lighter than Investec Loyal, the sprint course is on paper better suited to Wild Oats’ skipper Mark Richards and his champion crew.
Anthony Bell’s same sized Investec Loyal will be looking to punch above its heavier weight, using its A-list crew roll call to maximise the Harbour’s short runway.
'While we have been busy preparing our campaign for the Great Race [Rolex Sydney Hobart], the team is looking forward to the short course of the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge next week,' said Bell. 'It’s a great spectacle on Sydney Harbour and we are eager to compete'.
Multiple line honours winner in its heyday, Jim Cooney’s Jutson 80, Brindabella, will be among the starting pack, as will Peter Millard and John Honan’s well-sailed 30m maxi, Lahana, and Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing.
A major battle for handicap honours is looming among the 50-55 footers with Marcus Blackmore’s nippy TP52, Hooligan, out to snare yet another trophy before farewelling his TP52 class mates who are heading to Hobart come Boxing Day.
Interstaters revel in the chance to sail unimpeded around one of the world’s most beautiful harbours, and they are coming from south of the border in numbers to unsettle the local fleet; Rob Date’s RP52, Scarlet Runner, Rob Hanna’s newly purchased TP52, Shogun V, and Nicholas Bartels’ Cookson 50, Terra Firma.
The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge is one of the CYCA’s major fundraising events for its Safety of Life at Sea Trusts, which was established following the stormy 1998 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Next Tuesday the highest bidders from an eBay auction will join race crews aboard competing boats, meeting many of the sport’s heroes and getting an inimitable taste of big boat sailing.
Auction details and eBay links at http://cyca.com.au/newsDetail.asp?key=5494