Photo: Brett Hemmings / www.sailpix

Hobart race prologue

Maxis and VO70s with superhero crews to line up up tomorrow in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge

Monday December 9th 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: Australia

A formidable clash between some of the world’s best yachts and sailors will be staged on Sydney Harbour tomorrow, when the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 20th SOLAS Big Boat Challenge gets underway off Vaucluse.

By invitation only, this is the one time of year the Australian public can witness the cream of international talent display their skills and form against the spectacular backdrop of Sydney Harbour, as the yachts race a 14 nautical mile course taking in the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, Opera House, Fort Denison, Shark Island and Manly.

It is a preview of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, and a day when the line honours contenders come out for some ‘friendly’ rivalry and leaves the winner with a psychological advantage heading into the 628 nautical mile race on Boxing Day.

It also marks the first time Bob Oatley’s super maxi Wild Oats XI, Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal (the former Speedboat/Rambler 100) and Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing will face off.

After taking line honours in the CYCA’s Port Hacking Bird Island Race, Mark Richards, Wild Oats XI’s skipper, voiced the thoughts of many yesterday when he said of Bell’s boat: “It’s the most impressive and powerful boat around, so we’ll have to sail a faultless race to beat them.”

It is also the first time too that the VOR 70s, New Zealand’s Giacomo (Jim Delegat) and Queensland’s Black Jack (Peter Harburg), will go head-to-head since the former won the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race as Groupama 4, and the latter won the first three legs as Telefonica.

Entered also is Yachting Australia’s new president and past CYCA commodore, Matt Allen, with his brand new Carkeek 60, Ichi Ban, contesting only its second race.

Aboard the yachts are Olympic medallists, America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, Sydney Hobart stalwarts and some big names that will be announced tomorrow morning. Mark Richards has assembled his usual strong Wild Oats crew, inclusive of Iain Murray, Stu Bannatyne, Tom Addis, Robbie Naismith, Steve Jarvin and Chris Harmsen.

However fresh from his unprecidented 18th consecutive win at a 470 event, the latest addition to the Oats crew will be London 2012 Gold medallist Mat Belcher. “It will be great to be aboard Wild Oats XI with some of the best offshore sailors in the world,” Belcher said. “I’ve never sailed aboard any yacht so large and so fast. The power and speed of Wild Oats XI is amazing. It will be really interesting to see how it all works.”

Despite having been released from hospital just three days ago, Wild Oats XI’s owner, 85-year-old Bob Oatley, plans to be aboard the yacht tomorrow, and his intention is to steer his yacht for much of the race.

“I’m really looking forward to the Big Boat Challenge,” Bob Oatley said. “We’ve done a lot to the yacht to improve her speed in preparation for the Rolex Sydney Hobart race, so I’m keen to see how she performs.”

After being out of action for two weeks while a fractured section of her new mast was repaired, Wild Oats XI returned to racing last weekend with an impressive line honours victory, and race record time, for the 118 nautical mile Port Hacking – Bird Island race out of Sydney.

London Laser Olympic gold medallist and Oracle strategist Tom Slingsby and other big names such as Stan Honey, Justin Clougher, Tom Braidwood, Tony Mutter, Will McCarthy and rugby player turned yachtie Phil Waugh, along with celebrities Guillaume Brahimi of Bennelong fame, Larry Emdur and Karl Stefanovic who join owner Anthony Bell on Perpetual Loyal.

Giacomo boasts America’s Cup stars Chris Dickson and Juan Vila, along with Hobart veteran, VOR and America’s Cup sailor, David Blanchfield, while Black Jack has VOR veteran Hobart and VOR navigator Andrew Cape and Olympian, VOR and America’s Cup sailor Anthony Nossiter.

On Ichi Ban are Will Oxley, Gordon Maguire, Darren Senogles, Phil Harmer, Anthony Merrington – their sailing spans Sydney Hobarts and VOR among others, and Michael Spies, a 36 Hobart veteran who can claim line and overall victories in the great race.

The highly spirited SOLAS Big Boat Challenge takes the yachts from Steele Point (Nielsen Park) Vaucluse down the Harbour to Manly for two and a half laps and finishes off Sydney’s famous landmark Opera House.

Other entries include the 1997 Sydney Hobart line honours winner, Brindabella (Jim Cooney), Andrew Wenham’s Southern Excellence II (formerly Ichi Ban), Rob Hanna’s Shogun V from Victoria, Graeme Wilson’s 12 Metre former America’s Cup boat, Kookaburra and a number of other grand prix racers.

The CYCA SOLAS Trusts were set up by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia following the tragic 1998 Sydney Hobart to raise money to help the families of those who lost a loved one at sea and to help the various search and rescue organisations that help countless people each year; and foster and fund research and training to improve safety and rescue procedures and equipment used in ocean races. To-date CYCA SOLAS Trusts has made donations totalling $893,000 to various organisations.

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