Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Robert Oatley’s Wild Oats XI emerging from the shed after being lengthened to the maximum overall length for the race 100 feet. Image copyright Andrea Francolini.
by Lisa Ratcliff
An impressive fleet of 116 has been nominated for the impending Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, one of the world's most highly regarded ocean classics.
Last year's event attracted 113 nominations and of those 100 made it to the start line on Boxing Day with 92 crossing the finish line off Hobart's historic Battery Point having completed the gruelling Bass Strait crossing.
In 2004, 116 yachts sailed south for the 60th anniversary edition and prior to that 115 made it to the start line in 1998. It's likely that this year's fleet will finish up the second largest in more than a decade.
Expected to rendezvous in Sydney Harbour at 1pm on Saturday 26 December for the traditional blast of cannon fire will be seven maximum length heavyweights. Apart from a single scare last year, Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI crew has largely had things all their own way in the 628 nautical mile premier blue water event since they took the treble of line honours, the overall win and set a new race record in 2005.
But as Wild Oats XI stirs for a record fifth charge at line honours, the sharks are circling. At least four other similar sized maxis are capable of stemming Oats' amazing run says Neville Crichton, owner/skipper of Alfa Romeo who is riding high after his 143rd line honours win in New Zealand last week and one of those challenging.
In a hard upwind slog his money will be on Mike Slade's proven UK based ICAP Leopard, while in a running race he would back Wild Oats XI, Grant Wharington's modified 30 metre Skandia Wild Thing and Sean Langman's soon-to-be 100 footer LOYAL, and of course his own Reichel Pugh-designed champion.
Joining the super sleek and modern will be many of the race faithfuls, including three-time overall winner Love & War, Simon Kurts' 1973-launched S & S 47, and Mike Freebairn's 1968-built S & S 49 Ray White Spirit of Koomooloo, a 22-time entrant.
Ian Kiernan's 1958-built Tasman Seabird Sanyo Maris, which tonight is running first in the IRC handicap stakes of the Hempel Gosford to Lord Howe Island Yacht Race, will also add a touch of old world charm to the starter's list.
Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race