According to skipper Mark Richards, the fabled Wild Oats XI has been given “a bum lift, breast augmentation, nose job and cheek implants” to enhance its chances of claiming a record ninth Sydney-Hobart line honours win this year.
Richards insisted it was all just cosmetic surgery as the new-look super maxi was unveiled in Sydney yesterday, complete with an entirely new bow after the boat was cut in half in September.
“Some people are saying it’s not Wild Oats XI any more but a new boat would have cost $25 million and we have done this for under $2m. The backbone, rudders and keel are the same, so it’s still Wild Oats to me,” he said
The plan for the radical renovation, which included cutting 14m off the bow and two metres off the stern in order to put a new 16m bow on the boat, began in the moments after the start of last year’s race as the ageing Australian champion’s latest rival, Comanche, blasted past it down Sydney Harbour.
There was a mixture of awe, admiration and anguish in Richards’ voice as he exclaimed to his crew: “Look at that thing go.’’
Only a change in conditions during the race prevented the American yacht from triumphing last January and the Wild Oats crew were so aware of the threat they began plotting major renovations for this year’s race even before they arrived in Hobart.
Richards said they knew they would have to do “something drastic’’ to remain competitive.
“This has been driven by seeing what Comanche did last year,” he said. “They have that much money and that many good sailors … and they are very keen to taste blood in this race.”
“Several hundred miles before the finish we (Richards, tactician Iain Murray and designer Steve Quigley) started talking about what we would have to do to get the boat faster,’’ Richards said.
“We went to Bob and Sandy (Oatley, the yacht’s owners) directly after the race and asked them: ‘What do you think about cutting seven feet off the back and 32 feet off the front?’.’’
The extended bow has moved the boat’s centre of gravity further back to remove its tendency to nosedive into swell with a following wind. The yacht is also one tonne lighter, the new mast is five metres taller, allowing for a bigger spinnaker of 965 square metres.
And you can add dermabrasion to the cosmetic enhancements.
The crew took the opportunity to polish the hull mirror-smooth so it will slide through the water with less drag, a process that took “several thousands of man-hours’’, Richards said. “That’s the reason she looks so fair.
“The more straight and smooth that surface is, the faster she will go, and the boat hasn’t had a finish like that before.’’
The keel and mast will be installed in the next few days and the crew expects to be out doing their first sailing trial on Sunday.
“Until we go sailing we are not going to really fully understand what we have done but I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I don’t think I have seen the Wild Oats team as excited as this in 10 years and I am as excited as I have ever been in my whole life to sail this boat.”
The crew’s teamwork (most have sailed together for 10 years) gave them an advantage over the new Comanche last year but Richards predicted the US entry would be far more formidable this year.
“They were pretty raw last year,’’ he said. “This year they have set a new monohull speed record (618 nautical miles in 24 hours) which is pretty amazing. They are going to be the boat to beat, but we will see.
“It’s going to be about who does the best job in their unfavourable conditions. It never really does suit one boat the whole way, that’s why you see a different winner every year on handicap. That’s the great thing about the event.’’
Given the right conditions, Richards reckons any of the six super maxis in the race could “smash” Wild Oats‘ 2012 race record of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.
*This article originally appeared online at www.theaustralian.com. *