Super-maxi Wild Oats eyes speed record and ninth victory in Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race

Australian boat is favourite to win the blue water classic again with weather forecasters predicting ideal conditions for a fast race

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 December, 2016, 11:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 December, 2016, 11:17pm

Wild Oats, the eight-time Sydney-Hobart winner and favourite for a ninth victory, could also break its own speed record with favourable winds predicted for the blue water classic that starts on Monday.

The long-range weather forecast sets up a fast 2016 race with a southerly front on the evening of day one likely to decide who takes the gruelling 628 nautical mile race.

Wild Oats XI’s navigator Juan Vila is predicting his 100-foot super-maxi could arrive in Hobart in one day 15 hours, well within the one day 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12-second race record set by the same vessel in 2012.

“Our routing suggests we are almost in record time,” Vila said on Thursday.

“If the southerly doesn’t last too long and the transition to the north-east is gradual and we have some reaching, then the record could be broken this year.”

Watch: Highlights from the 2015 Sydney-to-Hobart race

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology expects the 90-strong fleet to sail south with a fresh to strong north-easterly through Boxing Day afternoon.

But the spinnaker “sleigh ride” down the coast will end late in the evening when a southerly front blows up the coast, bringing winds of 20-30 knots and a two-metre northerly swell.

Those southerlies are due to last until late on Tuesday, then swing to the east and north-east for all of Wednesday.

A second southerly is expected on the 29th or possibly the 30th.

“There is a bit of something for everyone,” Vila said. “We are an all-round boat, but everyone will have their sweet spot at some time.”

Organisers said the timing of this first front would probably determine the overall handicap winner of the race too, not just the fastest boat that takes line honours.

While the early forecast looks good for the four super-maxis who can be expected to race away from the rest of the fleet in the early stages, they will also reach the weather front sooner than anyone else.

“As you look at it at the moment [the weather] favours the bigger boats because they’ll get through the southerly a little quicker,” said Adrienne Cahalan, navigator of the TP52 Ragamuffin.

“But anything can happen in this race and there are lots of passing lanes.

“We’re looking at a very tactical race. There’ll be transition zones that will win or lose you the race,” she said.

Savage southerly winds forced dozens of boats to pull out last year, including the local hero Wild Oats. Overall handicap honours went to Australia’s Balance last December with the TP52 competing again this year.

The 72nd Sydney to Hobart, a 628 nautical-mile race, has attracted 90 entries, including 12 international yachts.

Those overseas yachts include skipper Jonas Grander on Swedish entry Matador, Richard Stain on Britain’s Samskara, Kwanymin Rho on Sonic, from South Korea, and Joseph Mele, skipper of the US entry Triple Lindy.

Last year, American yacht Comanche, damaged by winds and high waves, won line honours. The 100-foot super maxi, owned by Netscape founder Dr. Jim Clark and skippered by Ken Read, reached the line in two days, eight hours and 58:30 minutes.

It was the first American winner since 1998 and the first foreign winner since Sweden’s Assa Abloy in 2001.