First clash of the Aussie titans

SOLAS Big Boat Challenge sets sail on Tuesday

Friday December 10th 2010, Author: Jennifer Crooks, Location: Australia

The first sparring match between the 2010 Rolex Sydney Hobart glory boats, the optimised Investec Loyal and Wild Oats XI, will take place on Sydney Harbour next Tuesday, 14 December, in the annual SOLAS Big Boat Challenge maxi yacht race.

Sean Langman and Anthony Bell’s NZ designed 100 footer Investec Loyal has spent much of the year dry docked undergoing modifications. The boat was finally relaunched a fortnight ago when the full crew of mostly professional sailors and sporting celebrities also met for the first time. Last weekend the crew had their first salt water training run, followed by a sail test outing on Monday.

What the Investec Loyal crew lack in time spent on the boat will be more than made up for with the depth of experience and sheer muscle of the professional component of the team, and the drive to win which flows through the veins of the many sports legends who have signed on for Australia’s greatest yachting challenge, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, in 16 days time.

It’s a different story on Bob Oatley’s 100 footer Wild Oats XI, a three-time winner of the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge. The crew learnt a big lesson from last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart which saw them spend limited time on the water before the race start. This year, the heart and soul of the red shirt brigade have been on the water all year combining into one slick operation.

“It’s always good psychologically to win the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge,” admits Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards. “We had it in the bag last year and we fluffed it, it’s really important we get around the track cleanly this year.”

Grant Wharington missed out on the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge last year due to mast mayhem during the boat’s delivery from Melbourne to Sydney. This year, Wharington, a new ambassador for the Sunshine State having migrated across two borders to Queensland, is promising his 98 footer Wild Thing will be on the start line and still flying the Mornington Yacht Club’s burgee.

It will be Wild Thing’s first outing since the Pittwater to Coffs Harbour race in January, but it’s unlikely Wharington will be able to trial his pint-sized Rolex Sydney Hobart crew of 10 for the maxi clash. The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge is traditionally about packing as many crew, friends and sponsors on board as is allowable for what is essentially an extreme on-water Christmas party with celebrations extending well into the evening back at the host club, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Rushcutters Bay.

The tight 14 mile Harbour course will offer limited space for these three canting keel giants and the rest of the anticipated fleet of 20 yachts, ranging from the TP52s up to the 100 footers, to stretch out. For Sydneysiders, it’s a unique opportunity to see the might and power of these maxis before they line up again on Boxing Day to try and trounce the line honours field.

Eleven of Tuesday’s starting line-up have generously donated two places each to the annual eBay auction to raise money for the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s SOLAS Trusts which were established following the stormy 1998 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. To bid for a place on a yacht, click here. Bidding will close on 10 December.

The CYCA’s race committee will select from two courses on the day, one a 14 mile course and the other a 12 mile course around Sydney Harbour, ensuring a windward start.

From the 12.30pm start off Steele Point, Nielsen Park, the fleet will complete two and a half laps of the natural amphitheatre that is the southern end of the Harbour before finishing just off the Sydney Opera House.

That same day TV megastar Oprah Winfrey will be filming her Australian shows at the Sydney Opera House and what better backdrop for the cameras than sailing’s thoroughbreds being put through their paces right on the city’s doorstep.

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