Sunday 17 December 2017

Sailing: Irish to the fore as 'Wild Oats' demolishes own record

WM Nixon

Irish sailors in Australia have been on a roll in the annual 628-mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, with major input into the crewing of the two top boats.

After a virtually perfect race in tactical and navigational terms, veteran owner Bob Oatley's 100-footer Wild Oats XI took line honours, and, in doing so, knocked 16 minutes off the course record she established in 2005.

As Oatley's team – headed by skipper Mark Richards – constantly update and retune the big boat, the Wild Oats which established the record yesterday was a very different beast from the winner of 2005.

But the course they had to sail was the same challenging slog down the coast of New South Wales, across the Bass Strait, and up the often flukey estuary of the Derwent River to the city centre finish in Hobart.

One false call from experienced navigator Adrienne Cahalane – whose people hail from Offaly – and a mountain of effort beforehand and afloat would have amounted to nothing.

But after blasting away from a perfect start to establish what is believed to be a record for the first short stage from the harbour to Sydney Heads, Wild Oats never put a foot wrong.


At times she was even showing as the overall handicap leader, which is unusual for the biggest boat in the fleet.

For much of the race, the handicap lead was between the defending champion, Steve Ainsworth's 63ft Loki, with Gordon Maguire (originally from Howth) as sailing master, and the hot new boat on the block, Peter Harburg's 66ft Black Jack, whose crew – including Olympic gold medallist Tom Slingsby – made no secret of targeting Loki.

Being slightly larger, Black Jack seemed to be establishing an unassailable lead, as the quicker you could get south, the more favourable the winds became.

This meant that far ahead, not only did Wild Oats end up sailing her own race, but she carried the breeze right to the end, while the wind was losing power out at sea.

As the hours ticked by after the big boat was finished, the chances of either Black Jack or Loki saving their time on the Oatley boat evaporated. Wild Oats XI had the treble – line honours, course record, and overall win.

But in the private race with Black Jack, Maguire and his team somehow found extra microns of performance, and though they were beaten by Wild Oats by more than two hours on corrected time, they in turn beat Black Jack by 2 hours 3 minutes.

Irish Independent

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