Wild Oats XI spreads her wing for 10th Rolex Sydney-Hobart

She’s the Grande Dame of ocean yacht racing and had near a dozen makeovers in the past 10 years.

Now it’s hoped her latest upgrade will literally wing her to unsurpassed levels of acclaim on the international sailing scene.

The ‘Grande Dame’ is the 30-metre long supermaxi, Wild Oats XI – already the most successful yacht to have contested the famous Rolex Sydney Hobart classic in the event’s 70-year history.

In little more than three weeks, when the 628 nautical mile race gets underway on Sydney Harbour, Wild Oats XI’s owner, businessman and philanthropist Bob Oatley AO, will know he has done everything possible to give his sleek silver yacht the chance of making sailing history by being the first to finish in Hobart for an unprecedented eighth time.

At the same time he will be hoping that a development of the radical hydrofoil wing concept he pioneered on the yacht last year will make a significant contribution to her success this time around.

The retractable horizontal wing was used to dramatic effect in the 2013 Hobart race. It helped Wild Oats XI come from behind and claim line honours over Anthony Bell’s highly fancied supermaxi, Perpetual Loyal. Now 86-year-old Oatley has decided bigger is better: after consulting with his design team, and the yacht’s skipper, Mark Richards, the decision was made to make the wing longer for this year’s race so the benefits it delivered could be achieved in lighter winds.

The wing was originally fitted to provide lift to the bow, and consequently reduce the chance of nose-diving when Wild Oats XI was charging downwind at high speed. As it turned out, the foil also caused the yacht to be considerably faster.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the increase in speed that came when the wing was extended out to leeward at the time when Wild Oats XI was doing about 18 knots under spinnaker,” said Steve Quigley, of One2three Naval Architects, who worked on the project.

“Now, in researching it further, we’ve come to the conclusion that by making the hydrofoil about 800 millimetres longer we’ll be able to deploy it in lighter winds and consequently increase the yacht’s speed in those conditions. It’s a development that should make Wild Oats XI an even better all-round boat: something that’s usually an important prerequisite for success in the Hobart race.”

Because of the increase in length, the wing, which is located in an athwartships cassette at the waterline near the mast, will extend beyond the hull at all times. When not in use it will be seen on the windward side, then when deployed it will be out to leeward so that it can provide the desired lift, and consequently a reduction in hull drag.

Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark Richards, confirmed the new appendage, which was fitted to Wild Oats XI last weekend, will be tested extensively in trials starting today on Sydney Harbour and offshore.

Interestingly, the yacht seen as the Audi supported Wild Oats XI’s greatest threat for supremacy in this year’s dash for line honours in the Hobart race, American Jim Clark’s new and untried supermaxi, Comanche, is being prepared for the big event alongside Wild Oats XI at Woolwich Dock in Sydney.

– Rob Mundle

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