Bob Oatley’s 30-metre supermaxi, Wild Oats XI has gone “under the knife” once more, and the results of the latest surgery will be put to the test at next month’s Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. The big boat will be sporting a more streamlined bow when she lines up against a quality fleet in the IRC Grand Prix division at this year’s edition of the great regatta, which starts on August 16.
The Race Week fleet is now climbing towards 150, having surpassed 100 only a few weeks ago, and Wild Oats XI will be the most prominent yacht racing on the tropical waters that surround the Whitsunday islands, simply because of her size. Her mast is so high that it clears the roadway of Sydney Harbour Bridge by only a few metres, and, the total area of all sails she carries in an event such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart race is close to four square kilometres.
While the top speed Wild Oats XI has recorded to date is 35 knots, Bob Oatley, skipper Mark Richards and the team, are looking for more out of the nine-year-old design – and they didn’t have to go beyond the bow when they made their latest appraisal of the yacht’s true speed potential.
“It’s all about reducing drag,” said Richards, “And when we looked at the bow we realised there was a much-needed modification right in front of our eyes. Everything about the bobstay, which extends from the tip of the bowsprit to the bottom of the stem, was wrong by today’s standards – it was in need of refinement.”
The bobstay was a length of PBO (polybenzoxazole) super-light, rod-like rigging that was tensioned by a thick stainless steel rigging screw at the bottom. Now that’s all gone and has been replaced by a very thin panel of carbon fibre, not dissimilar to what is used on a modern Day 18ft skiff. Also, the stem has been reshaped – from a rounded section to a much sharper, knife-like shape.
“It might not sound like a major change, but our research shows that a modification such as this can mean you gain seconds, even in a short race,” Richards said, “And today’s Grand Prix racing is about saving seconds.”
Bob Oatley and the entire Wild Oats XI team know from first-hand experience the importance of saving seconds on a race course: they lost line honours to Investec Loyal by just three minutes and eight seconds in the 2011 Sydney Hobart race. That result revealed that had they been just one second faster over each of the 628 nautical miles in the race that year, they would have beaten Loyal across the line.
The Wild Oats XI crew will be using Audi Hamilton Island Race Week as part of their preparation for this year’s Sydney Hobart Race. The big boat is already the most successful yacht in the 70-year history of the classic. This year she will be going for a record eighth line honours victory.
The Notice of Race, entry form and regatta information are all available on the regatta website – www.hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au