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Wild Oats XI Wins the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race

December’s 70th annual Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race more than lived up to its pre-race hype, especially in the super-maxi class, where five 100-footers tangoed for line honors. Most notable among the super-sleds were the Oatley family’s Reichel/Pugh-designed Wild Oats XI and Jim and Kristy Clark’s brand-new VPLP/Verdier design, Comanche

The older generation, Wild Oats XI, wins the line-honors contest in the Sydney to Hobart Race 

December’s 70th annual Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race more than lived up to its pre-race hype, especially in the super-maxi class, where five 100-footers tangoed for line honors. Most notable among the super-sleds were the Oatley family’s Reichel/Pugh-designed Wild Oats XI and Jim and Kristy Clark’s brand-new VPLP/Verdier design, Comanche, the world’s newest and most sophisticated super-maxi. Comanche won the start in commanding fashion but Wild Oats XI hung close and within a few hours it was clear the tussle for line honors was a private affair, with Wild Oats XI clear ahead at the finish in the Derwent River.

While this can hardly be considered a case of David slaying Goliath—both Wild Oats XI and Comanche are sailed by some of the best ocean sailors alive—the fact remains that a 9-year-old boat beat the world’s most technically advanced monohull by 49 minutes in a 628-mile race. Peel away at the onion, however, and some germane facts are revealed.

While Wild Oats XI was built in 2005, she has been heavily modified over the years, with lavish attention paid to her rig, sailplan and underwater appendages. Her original “canting ballast twin foil” system has been updated to include a bow centerboard, twin daggerboards, a canting keel and a pair of horizontal foils near the waterline that provide extra lift when running fast in heavy seas. Designer Jim Pugh adds that Wild Oats XI was specifically designed to run the Sydney-Hobart, making her hard to beat—by anybody. “She doesn’t have too many weaknesses. She can hang in there until she gets her conditions,” Pugh says. “She has also sailed a lot, mostly in the Sydney-Hobart and in preparation, and the crew knows the boat really well.”

Conversely, Comanche was designed to break major ocean-racing records, including tradewind contests and round-the-world races. Because of this she reportedly carries some 25ft of beam, which provides massive form stability when the true wind swings abaft the beam and blows dogs off their chains, but also results in a very large wetted surface if there isn’t enough wind to get her heeling—a situation that was often the case during the recent Sydney Hobart, which was light and mostly upwind.

By comparison, Wild Oats XI carries just 17 feet of beam, which makes her especially slippery sailing to weather.

The question becomes, what’s next? While the Oatleys have already vowed that Wild Oats XI will return to defend her honor in 2015, the Clarks have been quieter about their Rolex Sydney to Hobart plans, as Comanche is expected to have a busy globetrotting schedule. Time will tell.

Photos courtesy of Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

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