Who could have known at any stage of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race that boats touched by Bob Oatley and both bearing the name ‘Wild’ in their title would take line honours and overall corrected time honours in the 70th edition of the race and the 70th anniversary of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia?
That is exactly what happened today. Wild Rose, Bob Oatley’s first grand prix ocean racer, sailed into Hobart yesterday, her owner Roger Hickman having to wait until today to be declared overall winner of the race with the 29-year-old yacht.
On Sunday, Bob Oatley’s 100-foot supermaxi Wild Oats XI logged a record eighth line honours victory after an epic battle with brand new super maxi Comanche, cementing Oatley’s place in ocean racing history.
What it says is that two yachts with the Oatley name attached have won line and overall honours in the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart.
This is not the first time Hickman has won the race with the yacht that he affectionately refers to as “the old girl”. With his partners Bruce Foye and Lance Peckman, Hickman won the race under the old IOR rule. It was in conjunction with an IMS overall winner, Cookoo’s Nest.
With 38 Sydney Hobart races under his belt, Hickman, from the host club in Sydney but a Tasmanian by birth, can claim the title for himself and his boat alone in the boat he bought from Bob Oatley for next to nothing.
“I feel lucky and privileged to have Bob Oatley’s boat,” Hickman said this morning. “I sailed with Bob Oatley on this boat and with Hugh Treharne (America’s Cup winner 1983) and Rodney Pattison (English double Olympic gold medallist). I did three Hobarts with Bob on this boat. When I bought the boat from him in 1991, he almost gave it to me.
“I was a young merchant navy officer then. I was honoured and privileged to sail with him and the others. Six years later when I went to buy the boat, I only had half the money, so I asked Bob if he could wait while I tried to raise the rest. He said to me, ‘Roger, you were the only guy to ever go to the bar and buy me a drink, don’t worry about the rest’.
“He was so gracious and I wouldn’t have been able to get involved in that boat at all without that generous offer,” Hickman said, with tears in his eyes. “Bob Oatley has helped me and Ricko (Oats’ skipper Mark Richards) and so many others get where we are today.
“So now we have Wild Oats XI and Wild Rose in the winner’s circle – the Ricko and Hicko show,” he said.
Following the race’s briefing on December 24 at the CYCA, Hickman and other older and small boat owners were rubbing their hands in glee, knowing the weather patterns would play right into their hands. While it was never a guarantee, the forecast did give hope.
“It started about three to four hours after we left Sydney, the concern about Love & War – and it still hasn’t stopped,” he said.
Love & War (Simon Kurts) along with South Australian entry, Enchantress (John Willoughby), were among the handful in contention to win the race overall, but in the late stages, stopped to give assistance when a light plane crashed late yesterday near Cape Raoul.
“We felt we had enough distance, but not enough time on her. It’s not a pleasant feeling, waiting to be told whether you have won. The anxiety goes up. To win this race is difficult at the best of times, to deal with this waiting game now ….
“I certainly feel empathy for Loki and others I’ve kept waiting; now I know what it feels like. I also feel sorry for Bruce Taylor – he’s had to wait around yet again,” he said of second overall placed Taylor with his Chutzpah.
Hickman’s mother died recently, which was a huge blow. But having his younger brother Andrew and younger sister Lisa aboard the yacht for their first Hobart races was special.
“At my mother’s funeral, I got up to do the eulogy. I was the one to get tearful and emotional, so yes; she was on my mind today.
“To win with my sister and brother, is a bizarre but wonderful experience. Imagine winning the Hobart on your first try,” says Hickman who admits he has spent more time with his siblings during the race than he has in the last 30 years.
“Usually when you win, you ring a member of your family to share it with, well with my mum gone, and Lisa and Andrew with me, I had nobody to tell.”
Hickman also praised Samantha Scott, the 18-year-old daughter of his regular crew member, Andrew Scott.
“She was brilliant. It was her first race, and believe me, nobody wanted to be doing the race for the first 24 hours, but she kept smiling and asking what she could do to help.”
“When we had our whoopsy – when we laid the boat over – we wiped out a couple of times. We put pressure on the helm to get back on our feet, and that’s when the stainless steel fabricated piece that joins the cable to steering broke. It was the first time we’ve ever seen the keel.
“Rolex is a wonderful sponsor and we’re so pleased to have them – they have made our race so special,” said Hickman, who won the CYCA’s Ocean Racer of the Year in December.
“We are going to have 30th birthday for Wild Rose this year – we are waiting to hear from the builder to know its exact birthday.
Of his Wild Rose, with which he has continued to win major races over the past 23 years, ‘Hicko’ said:
“She’s absolutely the best. She was built by John McConaghy and he said to me repeatedly, ‘This is his absolute best boat, the best I ever built’. Bob Oatley gave McConaghy a blank cheque and said, ‘build me the best boat and name it’ so McConaghy did and that’s where the Wild Oats came from.”
Hickman changed the boat’s name to Wild Rose after its 1993 Hobart victory because it was confusing for people.
“We always think of people who are not with us when we are racing. We had a little bear, Alice, who used to be on board with Sally (Sally Gordon, Hickman’s partner who died in the 2009 Flinders Islet Race with Andrew Short with whom Gordon was sailing) and she was with us.
“It’s a good win for little boats. It just keeps the interest if one can win every 10 years or so, I will dedicate this race to them, they add to adventure and character of race.”
He paid tribute to his crew of:
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.
By Di Pearson, RSHYR media