Australia's newest ocean racing yacht, Wild Oats, used her canting keel to full advantage to win both races of the Rolex Trophy rating series which began off Sydney Heads today in perfect sailing conditions.
Wild Oats, a 66-footer designed by US naval architects Reichel/Pugh for prominent Sydney yachtsman Bob OATLEY, sailed two outstanding races in the 10-12 knot north-easterly sea breeze, finishing close astern of the two super maxis, Stewart THWAITES' Konica Minolta from New Zealand and Grant WHARINGTON'S Skandia, in both short windward/leeward races.
This is the boat's first regatta in Australian waters - her only previous regatta was the Maxi World Rolex Cup in Sardinia in August in which she finished second overall after being shipped to Europe straight after being launched.
Wild Oats is not contesting the 60th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as she would have to restrict the static heel of her canting keel to 10 degrees to comply with the rules of the 628 nautical mile race.
Instead, Oatley will race again in next month's Strathfield Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Race in which he set the race record with his previous Wild Oats, a Reichel/Pugh 60 now called Targé and owned by Steven DAVID.
A fleet of 29 grand prix racing yachts is contesting the Rolex Trophy, a four-day, eight-race stand-alone regatta which is also the first part of the inaugural Rolex Challenge for international, national and club teams of two IRC rated boats each.
Seven teams are contesting the Rolex Challenge, with a European team being announced today between Aera, Nick LYKIARDOPULO'S Ker 55 from the UK, and German yachtsman Felix SHEDER-BIESCHIN'S newly launched Marten 49, Vineta. Unfortunately, Vineta had forestay problems on the way to start and could not compete. However, the owner is confident she will race tomorrow when two more races are scheduled for the Rolex Trophy.
Big boats dominated the overall handicap results in both races today, with Wild Oats winning the first race on corrected time from New Zealander Stewart THWAITES' Bakewell-White 98, Konica Minolta, and Targé, helmed by Iain MURRAY.
In the second race on corrected time, Wild Oats won from Skandia, Konica Minolta, Aera and Vanguard, with Targé unable to recover from being a premature starter.
After two races, the provisional points are: Wild Oats 112 points, Konica Minolta 107, Skandia 106, Aera 102, Yendys 100, Vanguard 99, Targé 98.
Sailing aboard Wild Oats today was super maxi owner Neville CRICHTON, who is currently building a new super maxi to replace his highly successful 90-footer Alfa Romeo.
Skandia placed fourth on corrected time in race one, ahead of Geoff ROSS' former European IMS champion Yendys, which has just returned from Auckland where it underwent a major optimization for IRC which has replaced the IMS rule as the premier rating category for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
In the first race Konica Minolta outsailed her Australian rival Skandia, taking a narrow lead at the first windward mark after passing Wild Oats, which virtually jumped out in front as the gun went for the 8 nautical mile windward/leeward course.
Sailing in a 10-12 knot north-easterly sea breeze, Konica Minolta showed fast acceleration using her new water ballast and on the first spinnaker run opened up a commanding lead from Skandia which had overtaken taken Wild Oats.
Skandia closed the gap on the second windward leg, but was still 47 seconds astern of the Kiwi rival she beat by only 14 minutes at the end of the 628 nautical Rolex Sydney Hobart Race last year.
Wild Oats finished third, followed by Targé, with Dick CAWSE'S new Lyons/Cawse 66, Vanguard, sailing a good race to finish ahead of the veteran maxi Brindabella (George Snow).
Then came the British entry, Aera, skippered by Jez FANSTONE and having its first race in Australian waters.
In an aggressive start to the second race, three boats broke the line but returned to re-start - Dekadence, Targé and Yendys. Once again, Konica Minolta got a good start and powered to the lead to be some 20 seconds ahead of Skandia at the first windward mark.
However, as Konica Minolta started to drop her huge asymmetric spinnaker coming down to the leeward mark the halyard jammed and sail ripped badly, allowing Skandia to take the lead, eventually getting the gun by 1 minute 37 seconds.
Wild Oats was again third to finish, followed by Vanguard, Targé and Brindabella and on corrected time, Wild Oats won from Skandia, Konica Minolta, Aera and Vanguard.
Racing continues tomorrow with the first race scheduled for 11am.
Rolex Trophy Rating Series, Sydney, Australia, Day One:
Wild Oats, Reichel/Pugh 66 (Bob Oatley, AUS)
Konica Minolta, Bakewell-White 98 (Stewart Thwaites, NZL)
Targé, Reichel/Pugh 60 (Steven David, AUS)
Skandia, Jones 98 (Grant Wharington, AUS)
Yendy, Judel/Vjolijk 52 (Geoff Ross, AUS)
Aera, Ker 55 (Nick Lykiardopulo, UK)
Vanguard, Lyons/Cawse 60 (Dick Cawse, AUS)
Ichi Ban, Farr 52 (Matt Allen, AUS)
Wild Oats 112 points
Konica Minolta 107