At the launch event, held at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) in Sydney, WOOD announced that following his IRC divisional win in the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart with his Sydney 47, Wot's Next, and successfully listing Wotif.com on the ASX in June of this year, he is embarking upon a new challenge by entering his new Transpac 52, Wot Yot, as well championing a new youth programme with Wot's Next.
Wot's Next is going to sail in the race for a second year, steered this time by a crew of experienced and talented youth sailors selected from a group of keen candidates from the CYCA's Youth Sailing Academy.
The twist for the Wot's Next youth crew is that in order to earn their place in the race, they are also required to participate in a mentoring programme with students from Blacktown Tutorial Centre and to teach them how to sail.
The centre educates late-teenagers which mainstream schools are reluctant to take and WOOD is hopeful that the plan, inspired by crew member Bill SYKES (AUS) - a head teacher at the centre, will teach both groups of youths some valuable lessons in life.
Two of the six youth sailors selected were announced today at the official launch - Mark LANGFORD (AUS), 21, who will line up for his first Rolex Sydney Hobart, and 17 year old Will RYAN (AUS) who will turn 18 three days before the Boxing Day start, thereby just meeting the minimum age restriction.
SYKES and Bill RILEY (AUS), with 42 Rolex Sydney Hobarts between them, and Genevieve WHITE (AUS) with her Rolex Sydney Hobart and Volvo Ocean Race experience will sail with the youths and provide a strong backbone to the Wot's Next crew.
In addition to entering Wot's Next, WOOD will skipper Wot Yot, one of the more interesting new yachts in the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet, with his crew of offshore stalwarts including the veteran campaign manager Dave ELLIS (AUS), CYCA Crew Person of the Year in 2004-05, and other members of the 2002 Rolex Sydney Hobart Overall winner Quest.
WOOD's company, Wotif.com, has made travel more accessible for the wider public through selling hotel rooms online at great rates, and on a smaller scale he hopes that his youth programme for the Rolex Sydney Hobart will make sailing a reality for a few youths who might not have otherwise had the opportunity.
'Offshore racing is one of the last great adventures,' says WOOD. 'It makes us all learn more about ourselves and the more people who can be exposed to it, the better.
'I'm hoping that both the experienced youth sailors from the CYCA and students from Blacktown Tutorial Centre will learn a lot from this mentoring programme,' he added.
Next year WOOD hopes to extend the programme, which could see some of the Blacktown students actually sailing in Australia's greatest yacht race.
Jenni BONNITCHA (AUS) of the CYCA commented, 'It's not a scheme that's likely to yield instant and spectacular results and will demand patience and understanding from everyone involved. But by donating his boat, time and the considerable costs of a second campaign, Graeme has made a huge contribution.'
WOOD admits that he faces the possible embarrassment of funding an entry that might do better in the 2006 race than his new yacht. 'If they beat us, that'd be wonderful,' he said. 'I can justify having two holes in the water instead of one if it inspires a few young people in the right direction.'
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