Despite smart crew work from last year's Line Honours winner Peter Harburg’s Black Jack, it was only a matter of moments before the Oatley Family’s Wild Oats XI exerted her authority to take Line Honours in the 2018 Grinders Coffee SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour.
Although the breeze was light-on for the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s (CYCA) annual Harbour stoush, the pre-cursor to the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the racing between these two super maxis was anything but.
“We were lucky enough to get a great start and that put us in a position to take advantage of the course,” said Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards.
“It's always tough racing against Black Jack in lighter air and they certainly kept us on our toes. All crews did a great job on all boats out there today and we are very happy with the Line Honours [Grinders Coffee SOLAS Big Boat Challenge] win.”
Behind the pair, Christian Beck’s InfoTrack was slow to wind up but soon picked up pace, meanwhile Seng Huang Lee’s Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag took a leg out to the western shore and seemed to be struggling. As the race wore on, however, third place became a battle of those two as they swapped third and fourth throughout the race, with InfoTrack coming from behind to claim third place.
Further back from the supers the battle was on between The Oatley Family’s Wild Oats X raced by the all-female Ocean Respect Racing; Winning Appliances skippered by John Winning Jr; and Sean Langman’s Naval Group. Winning Appliances got off the start smartly and was third behind the leading super maxis for the bulk of the first leg – perhaps John and John’s 18-foot skiff skills came into play. Winning Appliances kept the pressure on the whole way around the course, sailed in a mostly 8-10 knot sou ‘easterly, to take the Overall Win from Wild Oats XI.
“We've sailed around these headlands many times on 18-foot skiffs and we really enjoyed our second outing now on our Hobart challenger,” said Winning Appliances skipper John Winning Jr.
“We've heard a lot about 'finalising preparations for Boxing Day' but for us, this was our first! We're flying in a lot of our crew from interstate and overseas and we're only going to get better and better from here.”
Sean Langman’s Naval Group, on her second outing today, will now be keen to overcome headsail issues, also experienced by Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag and InfoTrack – which ultimately killed all three’s chances of either Line or Overall victories.
Pundits believe that the result of the Grinders Coffee SOLAS Big Boat Challenge is a forecast of what will happen in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Competitors will tell you this is not the case, however, as there is a big difference between a short Harbour course and the 628-nautical-mile offshore race to Hobart when many other factors come into play.
This was the 25th running of the Big Boat Challenge which started in 1994 when George Snow’s Brindabella took Line Honours, another yacht with Sydney Hobart pedigree.
After today’s exhibition of the big-end of the fleet, all eyes now turn to the main event, the ‘Everest’ of Ocean Racing, taking place on Boxing Day. You can keep up with everything going on with this year’s Great Race at www.rolexsydneyhobart.com, or on the Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages – and don’t forget to use and follow #RolexSydneyHobart on social media to get involved with all the action.
By DI PEARSON with DJ MUNRO