Wild Oats XI takes line honours in Rolex Sydney Hobart curtain raiser

Wild Oats XI takes line honours in Rolex Sydney Hobart curtain raiser – The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge

Was it an omen?

The crew of Bob Oatley’s Rolex Sydney Hobart race record holder, the 30-metre supermaxi Wild Oats XI, would certainly like to think so after their yacht took line honours in the Solas Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour today – for the seventh time.

The yacht’s next big challenge is the 628 nautical mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, starting on Boxing Day, December 26. In that world-famous classic the big boat will be going for a record-equalling seventh line honours.

However, while Wild Oats XI was first to finish in today’s 14-nautical mile sprint around Sydney Harbour, there is no doubt that being first to Hobart is far from a foregone conclusion – this year’s line honours race promises to be one of the most keenly contested in recent times.

An unexpected 20-30 knot westerly wind put the crews of all 14 entries to the test today, and it was, as Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards predicted yesterday, flawless crew work that would win the day.

Wild Oats XI’s arch rival for line honours in the Hobart Race, the similar sized but more powerful Perpetual Loyal (Anthony Bell), powered through to the lead on the first upwind leg to Fort Denison, near the Opera House. But then, a slick hoist of the gennaker by the Wild Oats XI crew saw her surge to the front.

On the next leg, a decision aboard Perpetual Loyal to carry a large gennaker in a bid to out-run Wild Oats XI, brought her downfall. A savage wind gust of more than 30 knots proved to be too much for the $170,000 sail and it burst like an over-inflated balloon.

While Wild Oats XI powered around the next mark – adjacent to the entrance to Sydney Harbour – with a comfortable lead, Perpetual Loyal continued on with the remnants of the gennaker flying from the masthead like a tattered flag. By the time her crew was able to bring the torn sail to the deck, Wild Oats XI had established an insurmountable lead. She sailed to the finishing line off the Opera House with her 85-year-old owner, Bob Oatley, standing proudly at the helm. The winning margin was more than two minutes.

Regardless of the victory, Wild Oats XI skipper, Mark Richards, knows he and his 18 crew will have their work cut out in the pursuit of line honours in the Hobart race.

“The result of the Hobart race will be, as always, in the lap of the wind Gods,” Richards said after today’s race. “Prudential Loyal is an impressive piece of kit – a newer and more powerful yacht than Wild Oats XI. If she gets her weather she is going to be very hard to beat, and if we get ours then we will be in the hunt. The thing everyone has to remember is that it’s a Hobart Race, and as history has shown, anything can happen.”