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Sydney Hobart Race, high-latitude inspiration

by David Schmidt 1 Jan 08:00 PST January 1, 2019
Wild Oats XI - Finish 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race © Rolex

As 2018 draws to a close and as 2019 springs anew, I find myself drawn to two impressive stories, both of which unfurled in 2018's final days and serve as great inspiration for us all as we collectively sail into the New Year and the possibilities and opportunities it affords those with adventurous hearts.

The first piece of inspiration comes courtesy of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, where the Oatley family's Wild Oats XI took line honors in this storied, 628-nautical mile bluewater event for the ninth time, dispatching the course in a mere one day, 19 hours 7 minutes 21 seconds. This was followed by a protest concerning use of the yacht's AIS unit, however this protest was dropped, leaving skipper Mark Richards and the Wild Oats XI crew to celebrate the end of 2018 in style.

While this doesn't touch Comanche's record from 2017 of one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds, this strong showing makes Wild Oats XI the most successful line-honors contender in the race's proud 74-year history and leaves her challenged only by Kurrewa/Morna's record of seven line-honors wins during the race's nascent years.

This line-honors win also marks an important rebound for the Wild Oats XI family, as the team's patron, Bob Oatley, passed away in January of 2016 at the age of 87. Additionally, "WOXI," as she is affectionately known, was forced to retire in 2015 and 2016 due to breakage, followed by a gutting penalty call in 2017 that saw the highly decorated super maxi penalized for an incident that took place near Sydney Heads; this penalty cost WOXI both line honors and a new race record.

"It's redemption for us, that's for sure," said Richards in an official race release. "After last year's result [that was] so disappointing. Today was Wild Oats' 10th time over the line first, regardless of what anyone else says. We are so happy with the result. It was an amazing, amazing contest to the end."

"This is one of the best feelings, not just for me, but for the whole team, the Oatley family," continued Richards. "After an event like last year, to come through and redeem yourself, today is a wonderful, wonderful feeling. Money can't buy that sort of stuff."

Even cooler, this proud line-honors win wasn't the only time that the Wild Oats moniker made the press in this year's race, as the Oatley family loaned their old ride (a Reichel/Pugh 66) to skipper Stacey Jackson (AUS) and her all-female, all-star crew, who took second place in IRC aboard Wild Oats X, finishing just astern of Phillip Turner's Alive. Jackson's crew included Volvo Ocean Race veterans Dee Caffari, Sophie Ciszek, and Libby Greenhalgh, the later of whom served as navigator. Wild Oats X officially sailed under the name "Ocean Respect Racing" and was also supported by 11th Hour Racing.

"I reckon we have probably proven our worth this week and it would be a shame to not continue [together as a crew]," said Jackson, who is a veteran of the VOR and 12 Sydney Hobart Races, in an official race release. "I imagine all the girls would come back. We've had an amazing time together. We're really looking forward to doing some more sailing."

At the risk of treading close to any jingoistic lines, as an American sailing editor it was also fantastic to see that two of the three American-flagged yachts that were entered in this demanding offshore contest finished in the top ten in IRC.

Prospector, which was skippered by Terrance Glackin, took sixth place on corrected time, while Ron O'Hanley's Privateer, which was skippered by Scot Innes-Jones, took seventh place; John Murkowski's Joy Ride corrected-out to finish in 55th place out of 68 boats.

As of this writing, all boats made it to Hobart, allowing crews and families to properly ring in the New Year after completing one of yachting's great contests.

On a decidedly different note, the other story that has captured my attention in recent months was the unofficial "race" to become the first person to cross Antarctica solo, unsupported, unaided, and sans the aid of kites, sails or other propulsion. Two men, Colin O'Brady (USA; 33) and Captain Lou Rudd (UK; 49) both began the dangerous and sub-freezing journey of 932 (statutory) miles on November 1, 2018, starting from positions roughly one mile and a few minutes apart, each dragging 300-pound sleds behind their skis.

While both men had significant adventure resumes involving high-altitude exploits including the Explorer's Grand Slam (Google it and be amazed), high-latitude adventures such as crossing Antarctica have claimed the lives of other talented adventurers, andmuch like the sailors who are currently contesting the Golden Globe Race 2018there was no guarantee of safety or even survival when they clicked into their skis and began what would be a 54 day ordeal for O'Brady, who reached the Ross Ice Shelf on December 26, 2018, to win this grueling contest.

"After 54 days of pulling my sled across the frozen continent, I completed my mission becoming the first person in history to traverse the continent of Antarctica solo, unsupported and unaided from coast to coast," said O'Brady in an official release, once his skis had fallen silent. "I arrived to the wooden post marking the edge of the continent where the Ross Ice Shelf begins and made a tearful call home to my family to tell them I had arrived safely. I did it!!!"

Impressively, O'Brady, who had been leading Rudd for most of the journey, cemented his place in the history books with a final 32-hour non-stop push, followed by a long and well-earned slumber in his tent as he waited on Rudd to complete his journey, which he did roughly 48 hours astern of O'Brady.

So, as we all begin our journey into 2019, consider these stories of adventure and can-do competence in the face of big, bold challenges. Irrespective of whether they involves skis or sails, these adventurers demonstrated what can happen when one commits to slipping the (metaphoric) mooring lines and boldly (and metaphorically) sailing far outside of the sight of land.

Sure the waves might be big, but with the right boat, team, preparation and training, almost anything can be achieved.

Sail-World.com wishes you and your family a happy, healthy and successful 2019!

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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