Offshore Yachting : February March 2013
Before the clean sweep by Oats in this latest race, in which it also broke its own race record, only two boats had achieved the double in the modern era of the previous 25 years -- Bernard Lewis' Sovereign in 1987 and Richards' own Wild Oats XI in 2005. Before that, you have to go back to boats such as the late Sir Peter Blake's Ceramco New Zealand (1980), Jim Kilroy's Kialoa III (1975) and Ted Turner's American Eagle (1972), maxis of a different era and rating system. Richards believes that, sailed to its potential and without too much southerly weather, his Bob Oatley- owned super maxi will always be a chance for the double, if not the treble of the race record as well, but the odds and the sailing gods are against it. "Our handicap is terrible," Richards bemoans after this latest race. "There is no question that under IRC, they don't want these canting keel boats to be winning races, which is a shame because they were built to the (IRC) rule. When they started SKIPPER 035 RUNNING WILD THE ONLY COMPLAINT AGAINST MARK RICHARDS AND HIS WILD OATS XI CREW AFTER THE 68TH ROLEX SYDNEY HOBART IS THAT THE SIX-TIME WINNERS ARE SIMPLY TOO GOOD. BRUCE MONTGOMERY CAUGHT UP WITH THE VICTORIOUS SKIPPER FOR A RACE DEBRIEF. winning races they were handicapped out of it. "There is no question that if we sail a perfect race and conditions go our way then we are going to have a chance of winning on corrected time as well as being first across the line." Richards is speaking against a background of noise in the world of ocean racing that Wild Oats' record of success -- six wins from eight starts, two overall wins and two records -- that some readjustment is necessary, that boats such as Oats are unbeatable if they can surf one favourable weather system for the whole race while the smaller boats have to sail out of one and into another. "What people forget is that you have races where the big boats have to battle southerlies and the small boats come home on north-easterlies, so it does go both ways," Richards says. Wild Oats XI began her preparations for the 2012 race about half an hour after she crossed the finish line in the 2011 race, three minutes and eight seconds behind Investec Loyal, then owned and skippered by Anthony Bell. Oats had been beaten only once before in the Hobart race, in 2009 by Neville Crichton's similar US Reichel/Pugh design, Alfa Romeo. In the 2011 race Loyal had proved to be superior to Oats in light airs. Oatley and Richards are obsessive about the Hobart race. They don't like to lose. So, after finishing behind Loyal in 2011, they stayed aboard the boat and had a crew meeting to assess where they had gone wrong, where they could improve. They were not to know at that time that Loyal would pass into the hands of the wily Syd Fischer, who would rename her Ragamuffin-Loyal for the 2012 race. "We had made some major modifications to the boat before the 2011 race but had never really got to sail in light air. By circumstance, we did all our training in north- easterlies or southerlies, there was no light air competition against another boat," Richards says. "It wasn't until the 2011 race itself that we found we were quite a lot slower than Loyal in light conditions. When we were discussing it, we knew straight away that we needed a forward daggerboard (to further reduce leeway) and we had to revise how we sailed the boat when the breeze dropped. "That daggerboard has changed the boat. Oats has become a very competitive boat in light air. It was quite dramatic on the first night this time. " Some of the other lessons learned from the 2011 race caused them to revise their heel angles and also the weight distribution around the boat, getting the crew well forward. It was a matter of getting back to basics. "The boat is dominant in a breeze, Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards is acutely aware of the rarity of a line honours winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht race also taking the race on corrected time, the Tattersall's Cup, said to be the true Holy Grail of the race. DANIEL FORSTER / ROLEX SUPER SKIPPER Mark Richards is a wanted man around Boxing Day.
December January 2013
Offshore Yachting April-May 2013