“It was a super easy race. We hardly had any water over the deck. You’ve got to sail hard, sail well and tactically keep yourself in the game, and be there when going around Tasman Island. You never know what can happen”, Wild Oats XI crew member, Mattie Mason told Sail-World NZ just after the finish.
“The race was all about speed. Tactically there is a lot going on, which is very draining on the navigators,”
“As we all saw on MAPFRE, Juan Vila did a fantastic job. The boat was amazing. There was a lot of grey hair on board, but they did a good job.”
Before the race, Mason joked about not taking a wet weather jacket – given that the forecast was for an easy ride.
“No, I didn’t take my wet-weather jacket! And I didn’t take boots either. I wore my soft shoes only – no socks”, he said dockside in Hobart.
“I talked quite a few of the boys into leaving their boots behind at the start. Some of the Aussie boys are quite soft – so you have to talk them into a few things now and again,” he chuckled.
After the race, Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards disclosed that they had taken the weight issue very seriously and relied on the forecast leaving 1100kg of sails on the dock.
Five of the world’s top echelon supermaxis competed in the race – reduced to four after the withdrawal of Hong Kong-owned Scallywag with a broken bowsprit.
Comanche the world 24hour distance sailing record holder, made much of the early running in the 628nm classic. The Verdier Yacht Design and VPLP 100ft supermaxi, with her extreme beam found the fresh northerly conditions to her liking, and was ahead of her race record pace, set in the 2017 edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart.
For Wild Oats XI the race unfolded at Tasman Island and went much as navigator Juan Vila had predicted before the race, which turned into one of the most intense battles for line honours ever seen in the 74-year history of the race.
“We did know it was going to get tough at Tasman Island [the last major turning point and less than 50 nm from the finish at Hobart], and that’s what happened when it got light.”
“We probably got to Tasman Island a little early. We were the most southern boat coming in there. Comanche had to gybe out, to get out of there when it went really light, and they were pretty much pointing back at us, for all the lead they had put on us to that point.”
“When you’re sailing at 15-20kts, it all happens very quickly, and we got around the outside of her. It was a lottery coming in [to the finish], but luckily the breeze hung in.
“We ended up sailing away from the other two boats (Black Jack and Comanche] – coming into the Derwent you never know what you are going to get”, said the four times America’s Cup winner.
“It was a great race as we thought it would be with so many lead changes – after 18hours we were side by side with Comanche. They just sailed over the top of us 200 metres away.
“Black Jack sailed a good race. They hung in and were right there at the end [finished second]. Tactically they sailed the best race of anyone,” said the veteran of 10 Sydney Hobart races. The Queensland owned supermaxi, a similar design vintage to Wild Oats XI, had three America’s Cup sailors on board – each with five Cup winners medal apiece. She was navigated by top US navigator Tom Addis, a veteran of 12 Hobart races.
“At one point we were 120nm out on the layline and on starboard, which was very high risk, but that is where we wanted to be. It was high risk. If we’d got headed, we were in trouble, because we can’t hold Comanche on a reach.
“We were if anything a little lucky coming into Tasman Island,” Mason continued. “But we’d missed a couple as well, so up until then, we’d felt a little unlucky. But we got some luck at the end, and it all worked out beautifully. The boat’s going really well.”
Race strategy worked
For Wild Oats XI the weather and race plan played out right as Juan Vila had predicted before the start. “He was spot on with what he was saying. Tactically for us, Juan was a Godsend. We got east of everyone and had to hang out there and take the pain when the others got well ahead of us. It didn’t pay off that well in the end, but we were still there, and at Tasman Island, we were close enough to be in the money and saw what was going on ahead of us. We got south and managed to make it work for us.”
“About 30nm out we had to gybe. In retrospect, we could have just put the bow down a bit more and laid around Tasman, and we would have been better off again. But you never know what is coming next.”
“Comanche always sails 15 degrees higher than us, and got away to be 10-12nm ahead. But they hit the light air first at Tasman Island, and had to gybe out. It wasn’t ideal for them.”
The race got underway in light winds with the fleet digging into a fresh sea breeze for the run down the New South Wales coast. For much of the first 12 hours, Comanche, which revelled in the conditions was ahead of her own 2017 race record pace, hitting speeds of 28kts.
On board, the narrower beamed Wild Oats XI Mason said they were sitting of 25kts and 28kts a couple of times.
“In three hours Comanche was over the horizon. But they were sailing 15 degrees higher than us.”
“Tactically it is very hard to sail against a boat like that. You have to stay in your mode. You have to stay in your best mode and not get caught in what they are doing. You have to back what you want to do. If you go high and try and match Comanche, you are just going to get hammered.”
“We were sailing as hot as we could, as there was a big left-hand shift. So the first bow into that was going to get lifted and would then gybe. We were really worried about that, and so we sailed higher than we normally would.
“It is all about sailing in your own mode with the boats because they are so different.”
The tale of the tape
The vital statistics for the four supermaxis reveal that Wild Oats XI and Black Jack are 5.1metres and 5.2metres beam respectively. While Comanche has almost three metres more beam at 7.9metres while InfoTrack is just half a metre less at 7.5metres. In terms of righting moment, while no bulb weights are available, Comanche’s keel is just over a metre deeper than Wild Oats XI, and Black Jack has 1.5metres less draft. Comanche draws 7.0metres with InfoTrack at 6.4 metres.
The performance summary is that Comanche, once she can heel to an extreme, and reduce the drag of her wide hull, has more righting moment from a longer keel and will have more power for her hull drag. She is best in fresh reaching conditions and at her worst in light winds because of her extra hull drag. The same applies in a less extreme way to InfoTrack.
Wild Oats XI can never match Comanche on a reach because she lacks the righting moment and with her smaller beam. However she comes into her own in lighter winds with less hull drag, and in fresh and light can sail deeper angles than Comanche – so it looking to sail a shorter distance than the red-hulled speedster.
Black Jack has similar performance issues to Wild Oats XI – with a more pronounced disadvantage in fresh reaching conditions.
“At 3.00am this morning Black Jack was 4nm ahead of us. We got it soft, and light in the south and they were 6nm to windward of us. In an hour they went from 6nm behind to 2nm ahead – it was that quick – unbelievable.
“Because they were in the north they got caught in the light as well. We just carried on, where they had to gybe to get out from the Tasmanian coast, and gybed doing 3kts and were essentially pointing straight back at us.”
“There was a big transition zone at Tasman Island, with no wind,” said Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards at an impromptu media conference after the finish. “Juan Vila with Iain Murray and Glenn Bourke picked the winds very well. The guys did an awesome job. We basically sailed around the opposition, so that when the breeze did fill in from the SW this morning, we were in the right spot, and off we went.”
“That was the game-winning money of the race.”
The line honours win was the ninth for Wild Oats XI.
“This was one of the best yachting wins of my life,” Richards said dockside.
“It was redemption for us. After last years result (when Wild Oats XI lost the race and record after a Jury imposed 1hr time penalty for an infringement just after the start), it was so disappointing. Whether people like it or not, it was Wild Oats XI turn to get over that line first. We are just so happy with the result.
“It was an amazing, amazing result – and hats off to all four of the maxi boats. We all came into the Derwent together. What more could you ask for?
“It is a very proud day for the whole Wild Oats XI team and the Oatley family. We are just so pleased to be here.
“The guys did an awesome job, we were very unlucky throughout the race with a few windshifts, and we just had to tough it out, which we did all the way to Tasman Light, where we got a little break an just sailed away from the rest of the fleet.”
“For Wild Oats XI to be able to do what she did as a 14-year-old boat is just an amazing achievement.”
“We were behind the eight-ball all the time. Comanche led for 90 percent of the race. Every time we lined up with her, or got close she just burned us off. She is an amazing machine. Very fast. She was way faster in the light airs than we thought she would.”
“At the end of the day, here we are. I just couldn’t be prouder of the team.”
“Our preparation was excellent. Sandy and the Oatley family backed us big time with new sails and did an awesome of making our success. There was no pressure from them, after last year. It is the wonderful thing about the Oatley family and the team. It is not all about winning.”
“We’re so proud of the crew”, said Sandy Oatley. “the effort they put in I am surprised they are still standing. After all the tactical battles they had coming down from Sydney when they reached the Derwent, I was always looking over my shoulder to see where the others were. You can never foretell what happens. When you get into the Derwent, the race starts again.”
“This was the most spectacular Sydney Hobart for 74 years”, Richards concluded. “There are six Grand Prix supermaxi’s in the world, and five of them are in this race. To have a 14-year-old boat still showing the way is very impressive.
“She’s the Phar lap of Yachting, that’s for sure.”
The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), the organising authority for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, has been advised that Race Committee has advised that they have lodged a protest against Wild Oats XI.
The Race Committee received a report from the owner of Black Jack advising that Wild Oats XI’s AIS had not transmitted throughout the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2018.
On investigation, and based on its own evidence, the Race Committee considers there may have been a breach of S.I. 11.4 in respect of Special Regulation 4.09 (a).
The CYCA Commodore, Paul Billingham explained: “The Race Committee is independent of the organising authority of the race to ensure objectivity is maintained and seen to be maintained in circumstances such as this.”
by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz