When the crew on the 98-foot, eight-year-old racing yacht Wild Oats XI found themselves 12 nautical miles behind Perpetual Loyal on the first morning at sea in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, veteran crewmember Steve Jarvin brought the voodoo stick out.
The favorite walking stick of the yacht’s 85-year-old owner, Bob Oatley, the voodoo stick is a custom-made carbon-fiber job with a small model of Wild Oats XI‘s hull crafted into its handle. Oatley had handed it over to skipper Mark Richards and the crew in Sydney as a symbol of his presence during the 628-mile race, and as a good luck charm. And that it was.
The moment Perpetual Loyal—owned by Anthony Bell, of Australia, and formerly Speedboat and Rambler 100—appeared on the horizon ahead, Jarvin aimed it at the yacht and said, “There’s the target.” By late afternoon, Wild Oats XI had drawn clear of Perpetual Loyal, and after rounding Tasman Island, at the entrance to Storm Bay, she’d built a lead of more than 50 miles.
Wild Oats XI held on to the lead all the way to Hobart, reaching the finish line in just over two days and six hours. The boat was barely at the dock when Richards leapt ashore to share the excitement of the moment with Oatley, who’s as legendary in winemaking as he is in sailing, owns Australia’s Hamilton Island, and will be behind Australia’s challenge for the next America’s Cup. Richards immediately paid high praise to his remarkable crew and relayed the story of the voodoo stick to the media, along with two other factors that contributed to the yacht’s success.
A new hydrofoil wing, dubbed “the ironing board” had been fitted to the hull specifically for this race, and when the northeasterly wind increased to 30 knots and Wild Oats XI began surfing down the powerful Tasman Sea swells, the wing delivered on its intended speed increase.
“When we extended the wing out to leeward, the bow lifted and there was a noticeable increase in speed,” says Richards. “It was really exciting to see.”
The concept for the ironing board came from Oatley’s son, Sandy, as a means to prevent the yacht from nose-diving when surfing down short, steep seas.
Another Oatley family member provided the final piece of the victory: The chicken and white wine pies made by Oatley’s granddaughter, Nicky, were considered to be vital to the crew’s nutrition during the race.
Rob Mundle, an Australian journalist and author of multiple books, is the media manager for Oatley’s Wild Oats XI program.