Oats crew keen to reap next record

Top of their game … Wild Oats XI's skipper says he had one eye on rival Ragamuffin Loyal for the whole Sydney to Hobart race.
Top of their game … Wild Oats XI's skipper says he had one eye on rival Ragamuffin Loyal for the whole Sydney to Hobart race.

HIS super maxi has superior speed but skipper Mark Richards knows Wild Oats XI will not defend its Sydney to Hobart crown next year against veteran Syd Fischer and main rival Ragamuffin Loyal if the slightest degree of complacency creeps in to his crew's preparation.

Richards steered the Bob Oatley-owned Wild Oats XI to a stunning treble in this year's race by winning on line honours and handicap, and in a record time. He and his crew celebrated the rare feat throughout the weekend after finishing the 628-nautical mile race on Friday morning.

And while Richards said the performance avenged their narrow three minute, eight second loss to Ragamuffin Loyal last year, when she was skippered by Anthony Bell, who leased her to Fischer this year and did not sail, he realises 85-year-old Fischer should come back with a stronger campaign.

Fischer wants to return to the Sydney to Hobart next year with the 30-metre Ragamuffin Loyal. And while happy with the way his crew sailed her after a short two-month preparation, with more time together and experience of the way Ragamuffin Loyal sails, he should come back with higher expectations.

Richards certainly believes Ragamuffin Loyal will be better for their race next year. ''Absolutely. It's a very good boat, that boat,'' Richards said.

''They had a bit of speed on us a few times in the race but she had a few gear failures. But Syd knows - we know - that the minute you have a [gear or mechanical] failure, it can cost you a couple of hours.

''It's part of the sport, keeping these big angry monsters in one piece. It can be a bit hard when they bite; but do a good job [and] you can get great results.''

One of the world's fastest maxis, the 30-metre Wild Oats XI underwent modifications for the classic that included the addition of two winglets to the keel and the insertion of a retractable fin or centreboard at the bow, and the purchase of a 535 square metre code-zero sail, larger than two tennis courts.

But Richards and his crew also had to sail her hard to best capitalise on what she offered and ensure they did not give Ragamuffin Loyal any chances.

''It's one of the things about sport … we got beaten last year and those guys [on Investec Loyal] did a great job. Things went their way,'' Richards said.

''This year we sailed the boat really hard and well, and had the boat where it needed to be before the change - it was the only way we were going to have half a chance of getting the trip. It's paid off.''

Wild Oats XI will be hard to beat if this year's race was any gauge. Her Sydney to Hobart treble of line and handicap honours and a new race record was a feat she last achieved on debut in 2005 and that only one other yacht has pulled off from 68 editions - Rani in the first Sydney to Hobart in 1945.

''The treble has only happened three times in the history of the event, two of them have been our own, which is pretty amazing,'' Richards said. ''It's one of those things you dream about but never happens - but it's happened again. Bob, myself and the whole team are just absolutely ecstatic.''

Next year, Wild Oats XI will also be chasing another slice of history - another line honours win would equal the record of seven by any one boat.

That record is held by Morna with wins in 1946, 1947 and 1948 and, after being renamed Kurrewa, four more in 1954, 1956 and 1957 and 1960.

And if fast downwind conditions prevail, as they did this year, they could beat their new record of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.

''Wild Oats is an amazing boat and it will be - I would say - for some time to come,'' Richards said. ''She is way ahead of her time and she is of an extremely good pedigree. Sure, other boats can beat her on their day but she is also very competitive.''

Richards realises time will catch up with Wild Oats XI. ''One day,'' he said. ''But when it happens, it happens. Until then we'll keep going.''

This story Oats crew keen to reap next record first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.