The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour is shaping up to be a wet and fast ride. It is likely to be a good heavy weather test in the lead up to the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race which starts on Boxing Day, December 26.
'Sensational,' is how Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards describes tomorrow’s forecast of scattered showers and 25 knot southerly winds.
The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge is traditionally one of the busier days on the Harbour for spectator vessels. This year the 15 or so entrants, ranging in size from 100 foot super maxis to 50 foot grand prix racers, can expect less traffic around them, but a ton of on board action.
'It’ll be an exciting race,' said Richards this morning as he and Wild Oats XI’s race crew were preparing to don wet weather gear and complete a practice run around the 14 nautical mile SOLAS Big Boat Challenge track, which will take them two and a half times around Sydney Harbour to the finish off the Opera House.
Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI will then poke its nose outside Sydney Heads where the crew will this afternoon practice man overboard drills and reefing (reducing sail area). When told of tomorrow’s forecast, having just arrived back on a flight from the US, Peter Millard, co-owner of the 98 foot Lahana with brother-in-law John Honan, said, 'Then we definitely need to go out training today.'
Two of Lahana’s 21-strong crew are flying in from Europe and a handful more are arriving from interstate this morning to take the big boat out for a shakedown in preparation for tomorrow’s annual Harbour spectacle, when the largest yachts in town will marshal for the 12.30pm start off Steele Point, Vaucluse.
'It’ll be good to have testing conditions tomorrow, but we won’t be taking any risks that might put a speed bump in our Rolex Sydney Hobart preparations,' said Millard. 'We want to see a lot of pressure tomorrow and for the great race. We’re hoping for a southerly all the way to Hobart.' Lastly, on tomorrow’s forecast, Millard is philosophical, 'It’ll be a quick race back to the bar!'
For the sailing novices on Anthony Bell’s 100 foot Investec Loyal, tomorrow will provide some insight into what might be around the corner come Boxing Day. Olympic wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley, Roosters five-eighth Anthony Minichiello and Channel 9’s Karl Stefanovic will taste plenty of salt water and better understand the rigours of ocean racing when they join Phil Waugh, Phil Kearns and the rest of the race crew for tomorrow’s SOLAS Big Boat Challenge.
Making her Australian debut in the race will be Victorian Rob Hanna’s recent acquisition, the TP52 Shogun. Hanna purchased the near-new former Audi Azzurra from Europe, where it has been successfully competing on the MedCup circuit. Hanna’s main intention is to beat the other Australian owned TP52’s at major events, including Marcus Blackmore’s Hooligan, which is also contesting the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge.
List of entries available here
View course maps here