A fleet of 95, said to be the strongest in years, will assemble in Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day December 26, their aim to knock Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI from the top of its perch in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Seemingly out of the blue, a year before next year's milestone 70th race run by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), a fleet including five 100-foot super maxis, three 80-footers, 15 70-footers and 22 overseas boats has risen to the challenge for the 69th edition of the race.
They want to take line honours, overall honours and even the race record from Wild Oats XI
, the six-time winner that took its second triple crown last year.
The record-holder will have the look of a Swiss Army knife, especially sailing downwind. The Reichel/Pugh 100 sails with added appendages, a retractable foil for every occasion.
Since mid-year Wild Oats XI
has carried a horizontal, retractable foil at the waterline, which runs athwartships between the mast and keel. It lifts the bow when the boat is sailing downwind in strong winds, reducing drag.
The innovation adds to Wild Oats XI
's blade armoury of rudder, canting keel, two retractable daggerboards and a retractable forward foil. In addition, the boat has just been fitted with a new lightweight mast that has reduced windage.
The rivalry between Wild Oats XI
and Perpetual LOYA
L was evident at the official media launch. Skipper of Wild Oats XI,
Mark Richards, said they had been keeping their eye on the boat ever since there were indications the newly rebadged Perpetual LOYAL
may compete in the Rolex Sydney Hobart as far back as 2011.
"The two major modifications we undertaken this year is the installation of the new mast which is hopefully going be a great things for us - we've had a few glitches along the way and the second is the DSS board - it's a horizontal stability foil which has proven to be a good thing for us at high speed. We're the only super maxi to have this,
" Richards added
However the mast installation did have what Richards classified as "a catastrophic failure", but the team has been working on it over the past week and hopes to be back in the water at the weekend.
"It's like taking an AK47 to a water pistol fight,"
Richards joked about Perpetual LOYAL. The latter's owner, Anthony Bell, quickly returned, "There aren't too many water pistols coming out of New Zealand with DSS and new masts."
Bell said of his rivals, "It'll be a tough battle with Wild Oats XI - we're up against the best super maxi racing team in the world - they're like the Ferrari team of ocean racing, adding: "It would be remiss of me not to also include those other super maxis in the fleet; including the boat we won (line honours) on in 2011, now racing as Ragamuffin 100."
Bell finished, "Our boat's got a proven pedigree - it was a good target for us to acquire and we've spent lots of time getting the safety elements right; rebuilding and strengthening the keel."
Key crew from the America's Cup and other major ocean races, including Oracle Team USA's Australian strategist, Tom Slingsby, will take strategic positions on the leading challengers this year.
The other super maxi challenges will come from Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin 100
and Grant Wharington's Wild Thing
. Also in contention is Gerhard Ruether's super maxi from Cyprus, Zefiro
, though she needs a heavy upwind race to figure.
is the former Speedboat/Virgin Money/Rambler 100, said to be the northern hemisphere's fastest racing machine, but which turned turtle after snapping her keel while leading the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race. She sails with a major refit by Bell and Tom Slingsby's tactical brain, fresh from Oracle Team USA's winning America's Cup campaign in San Francisco.
"It's a dream gig - how could I not be part of this with such a great team and boat?"
"This will be my first Rolex Sydney Hobart and my first major offshore ocean race - I've haven't been sick on a yacht before - only once when I was on a fishing boat offshore, so I'm curious as to how I'll fair,"
Tongue in cheek, Mark Richards offered some not so helpful tips to Slingsby, after media described him as the 'secret weapon' on Perpetual LOYAL, "A nice warm tuna milkshake on Boxing Day morning should do the trick. That should put their secret weapon out of action."
Asked about the pressure to succeed in this race, having won Olympic gold at the 2012 London Games and then winning the America's Cup as strategist aboard Oracle Racing Team, Slingsby responded, "I don't feel any pressure when I compete.
"I've been through it all with my Olympic career - being the favourite in a couple of Olympics - not performing, then performing - that's the biggest stage where you're going to feel the pressure. Plus the America's Cup, being down eight nil.
"You've just got to go out there and do the best you can do personally and help the team. It doesn't matter what the scoreline is, I'll be putting in wherever I'm needed and doing my best."
Syd Fischer embarks on his 45th Hobart race, aboard Ragamuffin 100
, which, as Anthony Bell's Investec LOYAL
, beat Wild Oats XI
to line honours in 2011 in a memorable twilight duel on the Derwent.
Fischer comes fresh from line honours in both the Transpac and Audi Hong Kong Vietnam races. In the Vietnam race, he used the 90-foot version of Ragamuffin
to break the race record.
, from Queensland, has unfinished business. Already having won Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours in 2003, and lengthened for last year's race, she was rubbed out before the start for incomplete paperwork.
New boats form the second line of attack on Wild Oats XI.
There is Kwok's new Beau Geste
, with a phalanx of Volvo sailors aboard; Matt Allen has programmed his brand new Ichi Ban, a Carkeek 60, to join Beau Geste in the quest for the Tattersall's Cup for overall winner of the race.
"This will be the most competitive offshore race ever,"
says Hong Kong sailing identity Karl Kwok, who is bringing his new Botin 80 Beau Geste, built in New Zealand, to the race.
"There has never been a line-up of boats sailed at this high level in any offshore event.
"History is in the making on December 26 and we had to be part of the event,"
says Kwok, who won the race overall in 1997 with a previous Beau Geste, also new at the time.
Past CYCA commodore, Matt Allen, who has invested in a new state-of-the-art Ichi Ban for the race, a 60-footer built in Dubai, thinks it is the best fleet he has seen since the early 1980s.
"That quality is very deep,"
he said before official launching his yacht today. "This is a grand prix racing fleet."
"We only took the new Ichi Ban for a sail two days ago and so far it's performed well. This weekend we've got the full race crew on board; it'll be a full test of all the boat's systems,"
"The 60 foot yachts have previously got into Hobart in good time, so we hope to take advantage of the winds when they are reasonably fresh in the late morning and early afternoon,"
said Allen, "It's been 30 years since I was on the overall winner, so I'm hoping this will be the boat to correct that."
In addition, there are two highly competitive Volvo 70s (Giacomo and Black Jack) to snap at the heels of the super maxis and bid for the Cup.
Tony Kirby, a veteran of 29 Hobart races, has similar plans to Allen and Kwok with his new Patrice, a Ker 46, a light displacement yacht with a carbon hull, designed to sit up and plane downwind.
Previous overall winners in the fleet include Kim Jaggar/Travis Read's Illusion
(1988), Roger Hickman's Wild Rose
(1993), Rob Francis and Corinne Feldmann's The Banshee
(as Terra Firma in 1995), James Cameron's Luna Sea
(as AFR Midnight Rambler in 1998), Philip Child's Knee Deep
(as Yendys in 1999) and John Newbold's Primitive Cool
(as Secret Men's Business 3.5 in 2010).
has emerged as a favourite for the overall win "It's quite a challenge to sail this boat - it's slow, rolly and bouncy at times, but you also need your fair share of luck to win,"
Hickman said this morning at the official media launch. "In fact, looking around me at the pros, I'd say it's definitely luck with us."
When asked if there was a magic elixir that makes Wild Rose so good, Hickman added, "The crew and the team around you are essential - the women are extremely valuable and they have a great power to weight ratio. My father-in-law used to say that 90% of ocean racing is about housekeeping - so you really need people across the board that are good at housekeeping.
Asked to pinpoint the race that stands out for him most, Hickman said, "Every Rolex Sydney Hobart is special; I could never pick one from another."
International entries come from New Zealand, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Caledonia, Germany, as well as Cyprus. Twelve of them are competitors in the Clipper Round the World Race fleet, identical 70ft yachts, plus two Clipper 68s, one of them with Clipper Race founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston aboard.
Spirit of Mateship, a Volvo 60 earlier named Southern Excellence, will be crewed by 10 'sailing wounded', past and present Australian Defence Force personnel, known as 'Brave Mates', who raise money for their Mates4Mates charity.
"It's going to be a good challenge for us - none of us knew each other before embarking on this journey. Psychologically, this is a big event for us - it's been cathartic so far,"
Australian Defence Force veteran Craig McCarthy said.
"We're all use to working together as a unit and the camaraderie you build as a unit - it's been great to come together on this project as individuals (after leaving the Defence Force) and build that camaraderie again - and the Mates4Mates support has been great,"
"The calibre of this year's fleet shows that Australian sailing is back and back with a vengeance,"
CYCA commodore Howard Piggott said.
"Australian yachtsmen and women enjoyed huge success at the 2012 Olympics and Australians figured prominently in the dramatic climax of the America's Cup.
"The fantastic response to compete in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is symptomatic of renewed competitiveness in sailing here,"
Commodore Piggott said.
Starting at 13:00 AEDT Boxing Day December 26 on Sydney Harbour, the fleet will set sail from two start lines off Nielsen Park, Vaucluse. The largest yachts will start from the front line before the fleet converges outside the Harbour to round a mark one nautical mile east of the Heads before heading to Tasmania, where the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania will finish the race.
The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia, the Australia Network throughout the Asia Pacific Region and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7.