Overcast skies and a modest breeze robbed the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual Solas Big Boat Challenge bash around Sydney Harbour of some of its drama this year, but the flat waters and light winds were made to order for the slim, elegant Wild Oats XI.
After a perfect start, Bob and Sandy Oatley’s super maxi steadily drew away from the bigger, wider, more powerful 100 footers, Ragamuffin 100 and Perpetual Loyal, on every leg of the 14 nautical mile course.
Only the much lauded American 88 foot speedster, Rambler, looked a potential threat to Wild Oats XI‘s dominance of the annual Challenge (she can count eight wins from 10 starts, beaten only by her virtual sister ship Alfa Romeo).
Barely a boat-length separated the two at the first windward mark. But as soon as the Australians unfurled their huge Code Zero for the downwind run to Fort Denison, it was as though she had found an extra gear. One boat-length quickly became 2, then 3, then 4 as Wild Oats XI settled into the race.
In the end, 3 minutes 50 seconds separated the two boats when they crossed the finish line off the Opera House.
Oats‘ skipper Mark Richards was very pleased with this first outing of his radically rebuilt maxi. Looking at her, she is still Wild Oats XI, but she’s not. The longer bow has given her a more self-contained look, shifting the whole rig aft. is faster, but curiously she looks to be in less of a rush.
It was a courageous, expensive bid to breathe fresh life into the 10 year old legend, but Richards is confident it has been money well spent.
“We’re seeing improvements around the board with this boat. It’s a big deal to ask your owner to cut seven feet off the front and 30 feet of the back, but they backed us and today showed the results,” Richards said.
But this is round one, a curtain raiser. In fresher offshore conditions in recent days Rambler has looked very fast. And then there is Comanche, absent from the field today as she waits for her crew to fly in from America, a year older and wiser after her narrow loss to Wild Oats XI last year.
Not far behind Rambler, Perpetual Loyal and Ragamuffin 100 had waged their own private battle. Scarcely a boat length lay between these two at that first mark, and it wasn’t until the final downwind leg that Perpetual Loyal, flying her huge Code Zero, reputedly the largest in the world, managed to open up some distance over Ragamuffin 100.
“We were very pleased with how the boat went today,” Perpetual Loyal‘s skipper Anthony Bell said after the race. “We showed a couple of times that we are competitive.”
And while all this was happening at the front end of the fleet, Chinese Whisper just knuckled down, recovered from a dreadful start, when she, Black Jack, Ichi Ban and Brindabella had all had to turn back and restart, and won the race overall.
Rupert Henry’s JV62 showed just how quick she is, confirming the growing consensus among the yachting cognisanti that, if this is a traditional, all-round Rolex Sydney Hobart, she will be very hard to beat for the Tattersall’s Cup.
“We had all bar one of the crew we will take to Hobart on board today,” said Henry. “It went very smoothly.”
The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge took the yachts on a 14 nautical mile course, starting off Steele Point at Nielsen Park Vaucluse, down the Harbour to Manly for two and a half laps, taking in many of Sydney’s famous landmarks along the way, including Fort Denison, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Sydney Opera House, which provides the picturesque finish line.
Some lucky people bid for places aboard the likes of Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal via an eBay auction, and experienced their first taste of big boat racing, while helping raise funds for the CYCA Safety of Life at Sea Trusts (SOLAS). This was the eighth year the race was sailed to raise money and awareness for this charity.
Full results will be found at: www.cyca.com.au/racing/entrants-results/