Stellar fleet set for Sydney to Hobart yacht race
One of the most impressive fields in years will line up for the blue-water classic
Wind conditions are expected to favour bigger yachts at the start of the gruelling Sydney to Hobart race on Thursday but some of the smaller new entrants fancy their chances against the supermaxis in the stellar field.
Some 94 boats, including 22 international entrants, will be competing in the 628-nautical-mile dash down Australia's east coast to Tasmania island.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Howard Piggott said it was one of the blue-water classic's most impressive fields in years and a reflection of the Boxing Day race's growing reputation as "one of the most famous ocean yacht races in the world".
"We've assembled one of the best grand prix fleets for many years. A lot of people are going to be watching this race with keen interest, particularly yacht designers," Piggott said. "There will be in excess of 10 boats which could vie for line honours."
Forecast conditions for the race, which will set off from Sydney Harbour before thousands of spectators, favour the supermaxis, and 100-footer Wild Oats XI is a familiar favourite to win, perhaps in record time.
Wild Oats bagged an historic second triple crown in last year's edition, crossing the line first and winning the overall handicap as well as setting a new record time of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.
But back-to-back victories are far from assured, with substantial modifications to arch-rival Perpetual Loyal and three new yachts built for the regatta: Patrice, a Ker 46, Ichi Ban which is a Carkeek 60 and Beau Geste, a Botin 80 belonging to Hong Kong businessman Karl Kwok.
Ichi Ban skipper Matt Allen said it was the first time with so many unknown quantities.
"I think it's very hard to pick a winner. I don't think there's any race in the world that you go to see such an eclectic collection of boats," Allen said.
"A lot of them, such as Beau Geste, to some degree Patrice and Ichi Ban are almost unproven boats. I know Patrice has been winning a lot of races recently, but we haven't seen Beau Geste race. There's lots of unknown commodities out there."
Beau Geste skipper Gavin Brady, who has contested five America's Cups and 10 Sydney to Hobarts, said they were "probably the most prepared yacht entered in the race", having sailed under race conditions from Auckland to Sydney for a test run.
"Quite frankly, we're ready and we're confident," he said.