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4 January 2006, 09:35 am
Wild Oats X Wins Tight Race Into Coffs Habour
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Pittwater & Coffs Habour Offshore Series 2005-2006

Bob OATLEY's 66 footer Wild Oats X got a serious fright from Steven DAVID's 60 footer, Wild Joe, but still manage to squeeze home to take line honours in the 226 mile Pittwater to Coffs Habour Race in Australia. Meanwhile Grant HALLIDAY's The Business surprised themselves and the rest of the very competitive Sydney 38 fleet when they came from five miles behind the leaders to slingshot to a surprise victory.
Tuesday was a tough day for the entire 61 boat Pittwater to Coffs fleet. Most of the boats ghosted from pothole to pothole and then had an exhilarating run home last night.

On the Monday afternoon start the leaders sailed north without great expectations, but suddenly discovered there was some breeze about. As OATLEY explains, 'We were amazed with how fast our run up to Seal Rocks was. Had we had wind all night we could have arrived very early, but it died during the night. At first, we were a long way in front of Wild Joe but after a very slow night they caught up.'

Tactician Cameron MILES from Wild Joe said, 'We caught up to Wild Oats X at the top of Stockton Bight. We sailed to within three of four boat lengths. There was quite a bit of friendly banter between the two and then they gradually climbed away, but we were keeping in contact.

'We seemed to be making the right choices. I think it helped to have a good range of spinnakers. During the day we both went through some soft patches and then we went faster up the beach and suddenly it was close again.'

Owner DAVID from Wild Joe was enjoying the race. 'In the last few hours, about 30 miles from the finish line, a storm cloud appeared and the heavens opened up for us. Wild Oats X went offshore and we went inshore. We got the new breeze on the coast, they got stuck in the mud. We put a code zero up and snuck up to them, then the breeze stopped and we drifted around for a while just near Smoky Cape.

'We were very close, with 150 metres again. Once past Smoky Cape the breeze kicked in again and we both got spinnakers up, and a little later we crossed them. There was a bit of noise between the crews as you can imagine. We were coming down doing about 20 knots. But then they put up that big white 'asyo' and gradually sailed away. But we gave them a fright!'

OATLEY has had a great month. And this race is dear to the Pittwater sailor's heart. 'What a great race, very exciting. There were enormous holes and then breeze, then nothing again. It looked like they would beat us for a while.

'We know it was a great boat for us [Wild Joe was formerly Wild Oats IX], we enjoyed racing against them very much. If I had to be beaten by anyone, I'd be happy that it would be her. These canting keelers have been so much fun for us all. I'm very reluctant to sell Wild Oats X, just because we have Wild Oats XI. We can't get the new one into Pittwater and have to have an RPAYC Twilight racer, so X will be staying for a while.'

For HALLIDAY's The Business a cracking finish ensured a surprise victory in the Sydney 38 fleet. The Broken Bay start raised more than eyebrows when Daryl HODGKINSON's Uplift, normally a mid-pack contender, was fast away and led the field past Cape Three Points, with Gavin WARD's Eye Candy, Stephen MERRINGTON's chartered Easy Tiger and Lisa and Martin HILL's Estate Master, the closest of the following group.

The Plastic Surgeon maintained the lead well into the night, only to be the first to park at the Seal Rocks in the wee hours of the morning. One by one, the following fleet joined the raft up and soon after dawn, as the breeze stirred, the race to Coffs Harbour started again.

At the Tuesday morning sked, the eight boats in the One Design division were still within one square mile of each other. WARD from Eye Candy commented, 'We were just behind Seal Rocks after the first parking lot when we got a great kite run and headed out a little and straight past all the boats. Near Cape Horn it all started again with another parking lot and the fleet all caught up to us, again. And then we had another one yesterday afternoon just near Korogoro Point, ten miles south of Smokey Cape.

'We climbed through the fleet, we went wide, and when we came back to the beach there was only Easy Tiger ahead of us. We just focussed on them.'

Denis THOMPSON, tactician on Easy Tiger reflected, 'Eye Candy got around us with sheer boat speed. And we just stayed with them waiting for a mistake.'

The two beach going teams saw The Business going wide, with no great pace and they lost sight of them. As WARD explained, 'We noticed The Business going out but then didn't worry about them again until we radioed in our time and we realized that they had taken us all out.'

A winning move born out of desperation; but the most surprised sailors were on The Business. 'We were not going to get a result by following the fleet, we were too far back,' explained HALLIDAY dockside. 'So we took a flier. We had great pressure out wide, but in the darkness we did not have a clue how we were going. When we gybed in towards Korfs, we figured we were about fourth. Then when we came into the outer harbour, we could not see any other 38's. It was only then we realized we'd won.'

Behind them the Eye Candy and Easy Tiger crews were stunned. Steven MERRINGTON, from Easy Tiger commented, 'It was brilliant, we had a wonderful time. We were together all the way which made it great fun. The Business sailed over us. They did a great job!' THOMPSON, with beer in hand, smiled. 'Sometimes the best thing about ocean racing is when you stop.'

Rob Kothe (As Amended By ISAF). Image, The Business:© Ron FARLEY
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