As far as the America’s Cup winning skipper Jimmy Spithill is concerned, there is now unfinished business between Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours winner Wild Oats XI and the US supermaxi she beat across the finish line, Comanche.
Spithill was one of six helmsmen on Comanche. “We can’t leave it at that,” he declared after finishing in Hobart. He says that on his watch this morning the boat reached a top speed of 32 knots and knows what she is capable of. “Everybody got to see the true potential of this boat at the start. I remember looking up at Kenny (Ken Read, the skipper) and he just had this huge grin from ear to ear. Unfortunately we just didn’t see those sort of conditions again until the end of Bass Strait.”
Of course, young James doesn’t pay the bills. Logistically it is impossible for Comanche to come back to Australia next year but is 2016 likely? Skipper Ken Read deferred to co-owner Kristy Hinze Clark who said it was a matter for the Big Chief, husband Jim Clark.
Ken: “Kristy, they want to know if we’ll be back next year?”
Kristy: “They’ll have to talk to Big Chief!”
Ken: “Big Chief is not going to talk about that now!”
Read reflected on the crucial point of the race – the high-pressure ridge in Bass Strait. “We were about a quarter of the way into Bass Strait and expecting a westerly breeze, and all of a sudden Stan (navigator Stan Honey) came up from down below and said ‘I just got a new weather file, this is not looking good’.
“We were two miles ahead of them, in bumpy seas, and they literally went by us, probably going a knot or two faster at the time, and they just sailed into more pressure and just kept extending on the whole fleet.
“Both boats sailed a flawless race; but they had their day. They had 12 hours where they had Wild Oats’ weather, but that’s racing.
“You can already see Comanche is already changing sailing as we speak,” Read said.
So after this first race have they identified any changes they will make to the boat?
“Here’s the start of my list,” he said, holding up a piece of paper with top-secret to-dos written on it. “It’s brand new, we’re just starting. Before this race started, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We knew we had a good boat right off the start line, the way it just took off on that windy reach.
“Unfortunately we’ve always known we had that one blemish in light air, and that became a dominant feature in the race, so that’s unfortunate for us.”
Designer Xavier Guilbaud said he couldn’t take his eyes off the yacht tracker, keeping notes as Comanche changed angles and the wind circled the compass.
And, he was a bit more forthcoming with his list. “I’m excited to see Ken’s list, but on top of my own list, what I can see, is work on the weight of the boat to try to lighten her up a bit more, to increase performances in light winds,” he said. “I’ll discuss with the guys here, a little later, the little bits and pieces on the deck to improve manoeuvres, how the boat is sailed. Then on the sail configuration; how to use each sail, in which condition and improve the sail shapes.
“I think we do have a record breaker on our hands. The real answer will be in June next year when it does the Transatlantic Race. I think the boat is really fast.”
Read was effusive in his praise of the Wild Oats’ crew. “Wild Oats deserves all its success,” he said, though fate had been against them on Day 2 in Bass Strait when Wild Oats made the better of negotiating a weather ridge that proved the defining moment of the race. “This was their day; they had their 12 hours; they had Wild Oats’ weather; but that is boat racing. They deserve their eighth record, Lord knows we tried hard to take it from them. This team, our team, did an unbelievable job, and special credit to the boat builders and the design team because Lord knows we tried to break it, and it wouldn’t break.”
By Bruce Montgomery, RSHYR media