Despite winch-motor problems on the starting line, Bob Oatley’s Wild Thing XI was first through the heads in the 67th Sydney to Hobart Blue Water Classic Yacht Race he has previously won five times – along with an Admirals Cup.
Oakley’s Reichel/Pugh designed 30.5 metre supermaxi surged through the heads of Sydney Harbour like it was a stubby bottleneck holding back one of his classic Rosemount Wines’ charddies. Oakley established Rosemount winery in 1969. In March 2001 he merged it with Southcorp Wines; which was taken over by the Foster's Group in 2005 (now a part of global brewing empire SAB (South African Brewing) Miller - headquartered in London) to form Treasury Wine Estates (TWE).
The process left him a seriously wealthy man with little more to do than to go down to the sea and play with boats and boasts. Along with owning one of the world’s fastest yachts, the billionaire also owns Hamilton Island and the born-again Robert Oatley Vineyards.
His first international trade success was during the 1960s with Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) coffee and cocoa industry – he exported the beans around the world.
The great helmsman points the way.
WOXI lead the charge out of Sydney Harbour with Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal hanging on to her coat tails. In fact the start had not gone as smoothly as planned for Bob Oatley’s serial line honours winner. During pre-start maneuvers the drive unit for the main sheet winch had frozen up and for the start they had to transfer the main sheet to the spare primary winch as crewmen Jon Hildebrand and Ian Smith scrabbled down below to effect a repair.
After a short upwind to the Heads, the boats rounded the final turning mark and hoisted their spinnakers in a 18 knot northerly wind. The seaway immediately offshore was particularly substantial, with boats disappearing up to their first spreaders in the troughs, the sea kicked up due to the remnants of tropical cyclone Fina.
Wild Oats XI made her Sydney to Hobart debut in 2005, and made an immediate impact on the race. Racing out of the heads, she led the whole way south to arrive in record time, breaking Alfa Romeo's 2002 record.
In so-doing, Wild Oats XI took line honours, won the Tattersall's Cup (for overall winner adjusted on handicap), and becoming the first boat since Rani in the inaugural race in 1945 to do all three feats. The time set by Wild Oats XI in 2005 of 1 day 18 hours 40 minutes and 10 seconds, remains the current race record.
Wild Oats XI leads the fleet out from Sydney in 2005 and turns south. Pix Hugo Boss; it’s why we love this country of boat people.
The following year, 2006, WOXI was equally dominant, taking line honors in 02 days, 08 hours, 52 minutes and 33 seconds. Arriving at 9:52pm, the yacht sailed into Sullivan’s Cove to rapturous applause by a large crowd gathered on the docks, who were appreciative of her achieving her 'double' despite being battered in heavy seas.
The 2007 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race saw Wild Oats XI equal the 59-year old record of Morna, by winning a hat-trick of line honours titles. Wild Oats XI lined up for the start of the 2008 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race aiming to make history, and set a new record in her own right by becoming the only yacht to win four consecutive line honours titles, and did so, leading for the duration and completing the race in 1 day, 20 hours, 34 minutes 14 seconds.
The 2008 race was not without difficulty for the crew though, as they picked up debris in Sydney Harbour which added excess drag, and also collided with a two-metre shark. The crew felt that the collision may have actually assisted them by dislodging the snag from their hull.
WOXI, like your correspondent, had a bad hair day in 2009.
Wild Oats XI won line honours for the fifth time in the 2010 race, although the yacht's crew faced a protest against their win which could have resulted in disqualification. Under sailing instruction 44.1(A), yachts are required to report their position by radio as they pass Green Cape, the entrance to Bass Strait.
The rule was created following the disastrous 1998 race in which five boats sank and six sailors died. As the yacht passed the cape, the crew realised that a blown fuse had rendered their high-frequency radio non-functional.
They reported their position to race organisers via satellite phone, but race officials forwarded a complaint to an international jury, alleging that the crew had violated what race committee chairman Tim Cox called "one of the fundamental safety rules of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race". The complaint was dismissed by the jury, and Wild Oats XI was awarded its fifth Sydney to Hobart line honours.
Bob Oatley’s WOXI continues to lead the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet early this morning; Mark Richards has skippered the super maxi to a 10 nautical mile advantage over Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual blue water classic after sailing in rough southerly winds overnight.
Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing (Qld) and Peter Millard/John Honan’s Lahana were giving chase, 13 and 19 nautical miles astern of Investec Loyal. The top 15 yachts reported winds of up to 30 knots last evening around 6.00pm.
Mark Richards said from WOXI this morning: “We are through the worst of it,” and this morning were sailing in a 15 knot southerly 14 nautical miles east of Green Cape. They are expected to enter Bass Strait after 10.00am this morning.
Aboard Lahana, Carl Crafoord, navigator and 25 Hobart race veteran said just after 7.00am today: “We had a good night; no problems. We took time out of Wild Thing and we’ve shaken off Loki. It was very lumpy last night though – we finally shook our reef out at 6.40am.
“Now we’re sailing with a full main and a Code Zero; sailing in a 20 knot sou’ wester. We expect to enter Bass Strait around midday,” Crafoord said.
“The seas were very confused,” Matt Allen reported from his Jones 70, Ichi Ban, which is 12th on line and surrounded by the top TP52’s, Jason Van Der Slot’s Calm (Vic), Ragamuffin (Syd Fischer) and Rob Hanna’s Shogun (Vic).
Despite the lumpy seas and winds of up to 30 knots, there was only one retirement overnight. Shortly before midnight, Sam Haynes retired Celestial from the race after breaking the gooseneck (it holds the mainsail boom and mast together). All aboard are well and the boat is due back at the CYCA today. The fleet is now at 87.
Meanwhile, although a little premature to talk up overall contenders, Wild Rose (Roger Hickman) is leading the chase with his Farr 43 which won the race overall in 1993. Two Beneteau 45’s are behind him; race favourite, Victoire (Darryl Hodgkinson) and near sistership Balance (Paul Clitheroe) in second and third respectively.
The three are just beyond Batemans Bay with fourth placed Alacrity, the Beneteau 44.7 owned by Olympian Matt Percy, who reported at 7.30am: “Pretty lumpy and wet working our way down the coast. We are fairly close inshore, just off Bateman's Bay. We have a couple of other boats in sight to make it interesting, but not sure who they are.
“The breeze is a lot more left than expected and we are nearly laying down the rhumbline. We have one reef and the No. 4 headsail up and going nicely.
Meanwhile, Michael Bellingham reported from Loki late yesterday: “We are just North of Point Perpendicular. Boat and crew all good; we hit a sunfish or large object about two hours ago and went from top speed down to 3 knots. We had to drop the kite and go head to wind to clear and ensure no damage. It was very big and made a loud bang when we hit.”
At 7.45am, Anthony Bell reported from Investec Loyal “We expect the 20 knot southerly to continue – we’ll be in Bass Strait this morning – we’re working the two Phils (Waugh and Kearns) hard and all the celebrities are handling the conditions well.
“We expect the race to get very tactical down the Tasman coast; which will make the race interesting.”
Gusto in last year's Melbourne to Hobart. Photo: Mal Fairclough, The Age.
Meanwhile further south, Gusto held off Goldfinger to win the time-honoured Cock of the Bay race around Port Phillip Bay yesterday. Skippered by Brian Pattinson and based at Royal Brighton Yacht Club, Gusto won by 2ÌÌ nautical miles.
The two grand prix racers will meet in this week's Eastcoaster race from Melbourne to Hobart with both boasting recent victories. Gusto took out last year's race run down the west coast of Tasmania.
Goldfinger, skippered by Peter Blake from Sandringham, is the reigning Eastcoaster titleholder and the race record holder. Gusto set the Cock of the Bay record last year with a time of four hours, 40 minutes, 16 seconds but was 3ÌÌ minutes outside that yesterday. Third was Ray Shaw's XLR8 from Sandringham.
The race began from Port Melbourne's Station Pier in bleak conditions with a fresh breeze and a short, one-metre lumpy sea. But the weather improved dramatically during the race with clear skies and a 20 to 25-knot wind for most of the afternoon. There were 96 boats in the race and, despite six having to retire, there were no incidents or clashes through the day.
*TP Maher has endured more than 60 Sydney-Hobarts in his lifetime (all of them safely on terra firma) and covered nine America’s Cups on the four seas. He thinks he was once a member of the Society of International Nautical Scribes (SINS).