After a period of turmoil, a lighter and lucky Wild Oats XI is gunning for an astonishing 10th Sydney to Hobart line honours title in a milestone year for the race.
Another chapter was added to the dramatic catalogue of highs and lows for the boat launched back in 2005, when she suffered, mast, deck and rigging damage in early November.
“It’s been six weeks of turmoil for us. We had a major failure in the boat which has been rectified,” skipper Mark Richards told AAP.
“We were very lucky to get away with it, to be honest, and to actually be here on the starting line.
“It’s something that was going to probably happen. Fortunately we got to fix it properly and make the boat strong in that area and the boat is going better than she has ever gone before.”
Having already undergone numerous nips and tucks in her life, the grand old dame of the supermaxis is in good nick to take on 100-foot rivals, Comanche, Black Jack, Infotrack and SHK Scallywag 100 in the 75th edition of the race.
With fewer sails and crew on board and all the daggerboards replaced by one central board, Wild Oats IX is 1200 tonnes lighter than last year.
“The boat is performing way, way better than it’s ever performed upwind in all conditions, so that’s been a good thing. I think it’s going to help us a lot in this race,” Richards said.
Only 42 minutes separated the first four to Hobart last year and Comanche skipper Jim Cooney expects another close contest.
“I think conditions are probably going to keep us even tighter this year, so I think you’ll see us very, very close together all the way down the coast,” said Cooney, who expects his boat’s 2017 race record to remain intact.
Richards isn’t concentrating on cementing his yacht’s legacy by extending its line honours race record into double digits, three ahead of the next best boat.
“I don’t even think about that. We’ve just got to go out there and do a really good job in the race,” Richards said.
We (the supermaxis) haven’t raced against each other all year so it’s going to be very interesting to see how we go.’’
Two-time line honours winner Comanche is expected to set the pace, with Cooney committed to pushing the boat hard in the northerly breezes forecast for the early hours of the race.
“It’s just got a bigger motor. Comanche is the boat you have to stay with when there’s some wind,” Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford told AAP.
“We recognised our weaknesses from last year. We were a touch slow when it was heavier downwind. And while we won’t go with Comanche in those conditions, our aim is to stop the bleeding in those conditions, so when it comes to our conditions we can maximise the opportunity.”
Mid-sized yachts, especially the TP52s, are looming as the favourites for handicap honours.
The fourth-largest fleet in the race’s history will be spread across four starting lines.
The smoky haze that has affected Sydney over the past month is not expected when the race gets under way.
SYDNEY TO HOBART YACHT RACE BY THE NUMBERS
- Size of 2019 fleet: 157
- Biggest fleet: 371 (1994, the 50th race)
- Smallest fleet: nine (1945, the inaugural race)
- Most line honours wins: Wild Oats XI – nine
- Most overall wins: Freya, Love & War – three
- Line honours record time: Comanche – One day, nine hours, 15 minutes, 24 seconds (2017)
- Slowest time: Wayfarer – 11 days, six hours, 20 minutes (1945)
- Closest finish: Condor beat Apollo by seven seconds (1982)
- Most races by any boat: Bacardi – 28
- Most races by an individual: Tony Ellis – 51
- Most races by a woman: Adrienne Cahalan – 27
- Most successive races: Lindsay May – 46 (1973-2018)