Chicken pies, the gooseneck and the voodoo stick were the last items to be ticked off today in Wild Oats XI’s preparation for a record-breaking bid in the Rolex Sydney Hobart race, which starts on Sydney Harbour at 1pm today.
The gooseneck – a universal joint that attaches the boom to the mast – was the subject of an intense repair effort over the past three days, while the chicken pies and the voodoo stick are essential good luck charms for the 20-man crew.
The nucleus of Wild Oats XI’s crew, including skipper Mark Richards, interrupted their Christmas Day festivities yesterday to sail the yacht on Sydney Harbour for three hours and confirm the repaired carbon fibre attachment for the gooseneck on the boom was at full strength.
Meanwhile, back on shore, Nicky Tindill – granddaughter of the yacht’s owner, 86-year-old Bob Oatley AO – was in her kitchen at home preparing dozens of her legendary chicken pies for the Wild Oats XI crew – ably assisted by her sister, 2012 Australian Olympic equestrian team member, Lyndal Oatley. Lyndal’s declared role was that of ‘chief taster’ of the crisp-crusted pies, which the yacht crew insists they have on board for every Hobart race.
This morning, before Wild Oats XI departs Woolwich Dock for the Hobart race starting line, Bob Oatley will hand over the ‘voodoo stick’ – his carbon fibre walking stick which features a model of Wild Oats XI’s hull as the handle – to Mark Richards to represent his presence aboard the yacht during the 628 nautical mile race. Bob Oatley is unable to race aboard the yacht because of a medical condition.
Wild Oats XI is the most successful yacht in the 70-year history of the Hobart race. This year she will be going for an unprecedented eighth line honours, but success will not come easily as she will be confronted by four other 30-metre long supermaxis, the skippers and crews of which are as determined as Mark Richards and the Wild Oats XI team to be first across the line. The greatest challenge is expected to come from the newly launched American entry, Comanche, owned by Jim Clark and skippered by Ken Read. This radical yacht, which represents the latest thinking in ocean racing design, will bring a new dimension to the sport if she lives up to the expectations of many and leads the 117-yacht fleet home.
Even so, the latest forecast for the race leaves little doubt that Wild Oats XI’s race record time of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds will stand for another year. Yachting meteorologist, Roger Badham tonight said that the southerly wind forecast for the start will not be as strong as originally expected: the wind will peak at around 25 knots then ease and change direction towards the east overnight. Such conditions are likely to suit Wild Oats XI, which is starting in the classic for the tenth time.
– Rob Mundle