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The Big Bash


  • The Big Bash

    A bashing, crashing and punishing first night at sea could well decide the outcome in the race for line honours in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart race.

    Consequently, Mark Richards, the skipper of the highly fancied Wild Oats XI, is as concerned as anyone other competitor, not for their safety, but for being able to preserve the yacht.

    “It’s never fun smashing your way upwind in this race, particularly in a big yacht,” Richards said on hearing the forecast for the 628 nautical mile classic, which starts on Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day. “It’s going to be really challenging for the first 12 hours or so; the result could well be decided by who keeps their boat in one piece and doesn’t make mistakes. It’s going to be about going fast, but not so fast that you damage your boat.”

    Wild Oats XI, owned by prominent Australian winemaker, Bob Oatley AO, is going for an unprecedented eighth line honours in what is the 70th anniversary edition of the great race.
    Apart for the challenges the weather will bring, the 30-metre long supermaxi must also hold at bay four other similar sized, and perfectly prepared, yachts, three of which – Comanche (USA), Rio 100 (USA) and Ragamuffin (Australia) – are unknown quantities. The fourth challenger is Perpetual Loyal (Aus) which has held the reputation for being the world’s fastest ocean racing yacht.
    Wild Oats XI’s navigator and on-board meteorologist, Juan Vila, concurred with the Bureau of Meteorology’s preliminary forecast for the race, which was issued today. Currently a southerly change, bringing winds gusting to 30 knots, will sweep up the coast of NSW around the time of the start and last for 12 hours or more.

    It is, however, not the wind strength, but the associated sea state, that is likely to cause problems. The southerly wind will counter a strong-flowing coastal current, and this will inevitably create steep and nasty seas, which, if not negotiated properly, could cause hull or rig damage.

    “I don’t expect this year’s race to be easy for anyone,” Richards said. “Once we get through the first twelve to 18 hours we will then have to contend with very tricky light winds on approach to Bass Strait, and possibly off the coast of Tasmania. There will also be some good reaching conditions, and that will certainly suit Comanche and Loyal. It’s safe to say we are going to have to be right on our game all the way this year.”
    If there is a plus for Wild Oats XI it is that the current weather outlook strengthens the likelihood that her race record time of 1 day 18 hours 23 minutes 12 seconds will remain intact for another year.

    Wild Oats XI’s 15-metre long carbon fibre boom was in the workshop and Woolwich Dock today for some minor structural changes.
    Richards in planning a final trial run for the yacht and crew on Christmas Eve.

    ~Rob Mundle~

    Photo caption:

    Spearing her way towards Hobart: Wild Oats XI charges across Bass Strait in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2012. (Credit Brett Costello/News Ltd)
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