SYDNEY — Skipper Mark Richards believes five-time line honors winner Wild Oats XI is as fast as ever as it attempts to win the Sydney to Hobart race for the sixth time in seven years.
Getting in the way when the 67th edition of the race starts Monday in Sydney Harbour could be the weather. While the 88-yacht fleet is expected to start under favorable northerlies, a southerly change is forecast to kick in within the first six to 12 hours.
The southerlies could reach up to 30 knots in the fleet’s first night at sea and well into Tuesday, likely making Wild Oats XI’s 2005 race record safe.
“It is a pretty interesting looking forecast, there is a bit of everything in it, and it promises to be a tough race,” Richards said.
Other supermaxis expected to tussle with Wild Oats are Investec Loyal, which was second across the line last year and has since undergone modifications, and Lahana, which has finished second, third and fourth in previous years competing under three different names.
Then there’s Wild Thing, the 2003 line honors winner with veteran skipper Grant Wharington, and the 70-foot Ichi Ban, which has finished among the leaders in the past but will be hard-pressed to keep up with the 100-foot supermaxis.
Teenage round-the-world sailor Jessica Watson will skipper the youngest crew ever to compete in the race. The 17-year-old last year become the youngest person to sail around the globe solo, nonstop and unassisted.
She will take the helm of the Sydney 38-class boat Another Challenge for the 628-nautical mile race out of Sydney Harbour, south along the New South Wales south coast, across often treacherous Bass Strait and up the Derwent River to Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania.
Watson’s crew will include six Australians and three Britons, all 21 or under. Watson will turn 18 in May, allowing her to meet the minimum age requirement under the race rules.
“I am absolutely delighted to be working with such a dynamic and motivated group of young sailors,” Watson said, adding she and her crew would take extra care to meet all safety requirements for the race.
The yachts and their crews often negotiate hazardous conditions during the Sydney to Hobart. Five boats sank during the 1998 race resulting in the deaths of six sailors.
On Saturday, Rob Webb, the New South Wales bureau of meteorology regional director, said the swell from tropical cyclone Fina is expected to affect the fleet on the first afternoon and evening, but won’t have a major impact on the race.