Sian Cowen reports on her day on Grant Wharington's maxi sled 'Wild Thing' at the Skandia Life Cowes Week Regatta, Isle of Wight, Great Britain.
I had an exciting and certainly eventful day when I went for my first maxi yacht experience on Grant Wharington's big green 82 foot Murray Burns & Dovell designed maxi sled Wild Thing. She has been sailed over from Australia and her visit is primarily geared towards winning the Rolex Fastnet Race starting this Sunday and then return to the Solent to take part in the America's Cup Jubilee celebrations. I arrived at the crew house to meet the crew at 0800 and our mode of transport out to the mooring off the Squadron was jet ski. I soon got the impression that Grant was a testosterone toy lover.
Grant comes from Melbourne and started sailing with his father at the age of five in dinghies and soon moved on to bigger boats. In 1991 he bought his first yacht, an English 47, and so began the The Wild Thingseries. All his boats since have retained this name and, of course, have increased in size. Grant still sails smaller vessels and is taking part in the Etchells Worlds in September but his real passion is with offshore sailing and he has competed in 13 Sydney to Hobart races and last year came second behind Ludde Ingvall's Nicorette. He hopes to sell Wild Thing while in Europe and wants to build a new boat to a spec that will achieve a maximum rating without water ballast in order to take the podium in the Sydney to Hobart Race. The forecast was for at least a force six and a lot of rain so the wet weather gear came out and we set off for a committee boat start down towards Portsmouth.
The first incident was definitely one for the story books. During the pre-start we were sailing tight in to the committee boat and in doing so managed to snag the anchor line. We tried to reverse back over it but the result was we ended up with the line getting caught over the keel's bulb. This was about the same time as we went aground...
We were in danger of colliding into the committee boat and had no steerage. With some fast thinking and Crocodile Dundee brawn Wharington's long term crewman Graham Taylor whipped his knife out and announced "I'm going to have to cut the line". At this point a polite lady from the Squadron on the committee boat declared "oh no you wont!" "Oh, yes I am," came the reply in true pantomine style. But there was no stopping Taylor and with Leatherman brandished the committee boat was duly set adrift. This delayed our start but at least it achieved a new line being set in waters deep enough for these enormous yachts.
The fleet all had a clean start but it doesn't take these boats long to reach the marks in 23 knots of wind and 12 knots of boat speed. We were first to the windward mark but suffered a bad hoist with the kite the wrong way round. This was dealt with efficiently by the wealth of Australian talent on board but Skandia Leopard, sailing with Ellen MacArthur on board reaped the benefit of a considerable gain.
On the second run we were hitting 15-16 knots. This feels amazing in these giants and it was Leopard's turn for misfortune when she blew out her huge yellow leopard footprint kite allowing us to regain our lost distance. But it was not long before she had re-hoisted and seemed to be achieving even more pace than before. Eventually she overtook us just before we rounded the bottom mark just off Portsmouth harbour.
We powered back on a long reach back towards Gurnard, put in a short tack to avoid bumping into the Brambles bank and rounded the last mark with a clean spinnaker hoist for the short run home past the Squadron, sadly behind Skandia Life Leopard. My day finished eating a sandwich on deck listening to some great Aussie sea dog stories and being entertained by a whole ream of smaller boats blowing out sails and struggling to stay upright while dodging the large boats moored along the Cowes waterfront.
Meanwhile at the Squadron we feel certain an invoice is being typed at this very moment for the price of a new anchor.
More reports from the Skandia Life Cowes Week from the event website.