Sydney Hobart yacht race record holder, Wild Oats XI, is the centre of an intense repair effort on the eve of the big race after suffering damage during her most recent training run.
The sleek supermaxi, owned by Bob Oatley AO and skippered by Mark Richards, broke her 13-metre long boom when sailing in rough seas off Sydney’s coastline. The attachment point for the gooseneck (universal joint) within the large carbon fibre tube delaminated under high load and caused the failure.
The gooseneck attaches the boom to the yacht’s 45 metre high mast.
Initially the problem was thought to be relatively minor, but technicians at Woolwich Dock, where Wild Oats XI is based, advised otherwise after inspecting the boom. Since then they have been working around the clock making a repair which they are confident will cope with the rugged sailing conditions the 117-yacht fleet will face immediately after the start of the 628 nautical mile classic at 1pm on Boxing Day.
The time needed to complete an effective repair caused today’s scheduled final training run for the yacht and crew had to be cancelled. Instead, the 20-man crew will be sailing off Sydney for much of Christmas Day, just to ensure Wild Oats XI is 100 per cent race ready.
“We were very lucky to find this problem and not have it happen during the race,” Richards said. “Had that been the case then we would more than likely have been forced to retire and return home. It’s inevitable that we push the engineering and technology to the limit on this racing yacht, and that’s why things break from time to time.”
Richards added that he was confident Wild Oats XI was as close to being bulletproof as possible; however, the forecast for “nasty” seas and a strong southerly wind for the first 12-15 hours of the race would provide challenges for all yachts and crews.
“We are going to have to make sure we get our yacht through the first night safely,” Richards said. “It’s going to be very tricky at times.”
The southerly wind and rough seas are expected to abate and tend towards the east-southeast within 18 hours of the start. From that point it will become a tactically challenging contest as the winds are forecast to go very light – down to five knots at times – for the leaders in particular.
“Wild Oats XI needs a bit of everything when it comes to the weather for the race – she is an all-round performer and not a one trick pony. I think that if we can get to Bass Strait ahead of the four other supermaxis then we will have a good shot at being first home.”
Wild Oats XI is going for an historic eighth line honours in this year’s Hobart race. She is already the most successful yacht to have contested the race in its 70-year history. This year will be her tenth start in the classic. Since being launched for the 2005 Hobart race she has become the only yacht to secure the triple-crown – line and handicap honours and a race record time – on two occasions. She is also the only yacht to have achieved four consecutive line honours.
– Rob Mundle