Fast foreign challenger coming for Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
Wild Oats XI. Image copyright Andrea Francolini.
by Rob Mundle
Bob Oatley’s record breaking supermaxi yacht, Wild Oats XI, is about to undergo an upgrade following news that the 30-metre long sloop is to face a powerful foreign challenger in the Rolex Sydney Hobart race later this year.
American George David has put Hobart race line honours, and hopefully an associated record breaking run, high on the agenda for the 30-metre offshore racer he recently chartered and renamed Rambler 100.
Originally named Speedboat, Rambler 100 is recognised on the international sailing circuit as being unbeatable in the strong conditions that often prevail during the Sydney to Hobart race.
Since taking the reins David has made modifications to the yacht and already got her sailing better than ever. This was all too evident little more than a week ago when Rambler 100 took line honours and lopped almost four hours off the race record (previously held by the UK supermaxi, Leopard) in the RORC Caribbean 600, a 600 nautical mile race out of Antigua that loops around a chain of Caribbean islands.
Bob Oatley – a legendary Australian winemaker and owner of Hamilton Island – is all too aware of these facts and the challenge Wild Oats XI will face in the Hobart race. It has been a long held dream for the 83-year-old to see his record breaking yacht at least equal Hobart race history by claiming seven first-to-finish crowns. The sleek silver and red racer already has five of those seven wins to her credit, and she also holds the fastest time for the 628 nautical mile course: 1 day 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds, which was set in 2005.
Working closely with the yacht’s skipper, Mark ‘Ricko’ Richards, Oatley has commissioned Wild Oats XI’s designers at the Reichel-Pugh office in America, as well as other yacht design specialists, to research what can be done to turbo-charge his maxi for the showdown with Rambler 100.
Wild Oats XI is already out of the water and being prepared for surgery, however while Mark Richards has confirmed that a new keel will be fitted he has said little else: ‘We are looking at every avenue when it comes to making the boat faster. One thing we are definitely doing is running a computer analysis on a number of foil configurations.’
The latter point could be a clue as to what might be happening with the big boat. Wild Oats XI is a CBTF concept – a canting ballast/twin foil design – which means that she has a canting keel and foils (rudders) at the bow and stern. It is possible that when the yacht emerges from the builder’s shed mid-year the forward rudder/foil will have been replaced by a retractable twin-centreboard configuration like that seen on Volvo 70 round the world racers.
One thing Richards is very definite about is the magnitude of the challenge that will come from Rambler 100 in the Hobart race: ‘The result of the Hobart race this year will depend on the conditions we get. You are dealing with two totally different boats here: Rambler is a brute of a boat when compared to Wild Oats XI. She’s far more powerful and carries about twenty per cent more sail. In fresh reaching conditions they will be gone – we won’t see them – but in the light to medium stuff we should be OK. I also think that there won’t be a lot in it if we get strong southerly headwinds.
‘The one thing for sure is that it’s going to be an incredibly exciting clash.’
The extent of the modifications to Wild Oats XI will be revealed in July when she is relaunched. She will contest the Audi Sydney-Gold Coast race at the end of that month before heading for Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, which is scheduled for 19 – 27 August.