Of these, Bob OATLEY's 30 metre long Reichel Pugh maxi, Wild Oats XI, is certainly the bookie's choice having last year been only the second boat ever to earn the race 'triple' - winning line honours, handicap honours and setting a new race record. While she will be up against Grant WHARINGTON's Skandia and New Zealanders Charles St CLAIR BROWN and Bill BUCKLEY's Maximus, Wild Oats has a slightly clearer field this year without competition from her sistership, Neville CRICHTON's Alfa Romeo. However, if conditions are right, OATLEY's maxi could face stiff competition from a much smaller craft.
Earlier this year skipper Mike SANDERSON's Volvo 70, ABN AMRO One not only won, but annihilated the competition in the Volvo Ocean Race, claiming her victory after just seven legs of the nine leg around the world race. SANDERSON will be on the start line of the Rolex Sydney Hobart race with a mix of seasoned crew from his two-boat Volvo campaign, along with Australian three-time 49er World Champion Chris NICHOLSON.
ABN AMRO One is not only built to be raced around the world but is tried and tested in the extreme conditions that statistically the lead boats could well encounter. Sanderson is playing down his prospects of line honours. 'Prospects - we've got two 100-footers which are going to beat us to Hobart unless something fairly radical happens. I guess if it got really nasty we could be in with a shot, probably from any point of sail. We certainly know the boat well and know what it can take, while they [the other maxis] may be a bit more ramped up for the Med.'
SANDERSON says he is more interested in gunning for handicap honours. Having raced at Skandia Cowes Week, the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and in the Rolex Middle Sea Race since the Volvo Ocean Race, they have had a chance to alter the sails to optimise the boat for the IRC handicap the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race is raced under. ABN AMRO One's designer Juan KOUYOUMDJIAN is more bullish about their prospects, believing 'Black Betty' (as the boat is nicknamed) has a fighting chance of taking on the super maxis if conditions exceed 15 knots.
Another boat being shipped halfway around the world from Europe to compete in this year's Boxing Day flight south to Tasmania is British skipper Chris BULL and his J/145 Jazz. For BULL the race represents unfinished business. He was highly successful in local races in the UK during the 1990s before deciding to up his game and tackle some of the classic offshore races on the international circuit in 2000. That year he chartered Quest, the famous Nelson Marek 46 which would subsequently win the 2002 Sydney Hobart race.
Of the 2000 race, BULL says 'It was a very heavy upwind race practically the whole way, freezing cold, there was snow during the race and quite a few boats dropped out due to breakages. It wasn't one of the very toughest races but it was tough for longer than anyone could remember.'
In that race BULL drove Quest to second place on handicap. 'We would have won but for the fact that we ripped the mainsail,' continues BULL, who has a flat in Sydney and has spent every summer in Australia since the 2000 race. 'We had to do one third of the race with the storm trysail and we lost the race by two hours. I calculated the storm trysail cost us about five hours, so that was quite annoying because if we hadn't ripped the main we would have won.'
This time BULL has shipped his own boat to Sydney from Europe and has already been warming up by competing in the Blue Water Point Score series, a series of offshore races that includes the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. At present Jazz is lying second overall in this series after three races.
For the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race Bull says he would like plenty of reaching. 'With the bowsprit we carry a bigger spinnaker than boats of our size. So we are very fast reaching, and we are pretty good downwind either when it is fairly light or fairly heavy. When it is fairly heavy we fly the kite in more wind than most people. If it is heavy upwind all the way we do alright in those conditions, but they are not ideal.'
Among BULL's crew on board Jazz is three-time Olympic medallist Rodney PATTISSON, Volvo Ocean Race sailor Nigel KING and leading British navigator Mike BROUGHTON.
Full list of nominated yachts available from: www.rolexsydneyhobart.com
The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will start in Sydney Harbour on Tuesday 26 December at 13:00 from two start lines off Nielsen Park.For all the news on the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race CLICK HERE.