As usual, things are hotting up down here in the week before the Sydney-Hobart…
Wild Oats XI has been up on her cradle at Woolwich Dock ever since suffering a humiliating first-time defeat at the hands of Black Jack in the traditional Big Boat Challenge race on Sydney Harbour on December 12.
Searching for a fractional speed advantage, skipper Mark Richards has decided to make an alteration to the angle of the dagger boards. That change involves a level of structural work no other yacht would contemplate just ten days before the 628-mile race South. But when the owner, Sandy Oatley, also owns the shipyard anything is possible.
To this was added an even more dramatic development when the Wild Oats PR machine pushed out a media release yesterday stating that the yacht had been hit by lightning during a storm on Sunday night and that most of its electronics and computers were now useless.
While the shore team chases up replacement instruments (some of which are being lent to them by the Black Jack crew), the boat will go out for a test sail today to determine whether the carbon rigging might also have been damaged by the lightning strike.
Meanwhile, dockside cynics – of which the Sydney offshore racing community has no shortage – are suggesting that the lightning strike story is a cover for a pending announcement that WOXI will withdraw from the race and the team will concentrate their efforts on their 66-footer Wild Oats X which is also entered in this year’s Sydney-Hobart and has a reasonable chance of taking handicap honours.
If so, that would be a rather inglorious “three strikes and you’re out” end to WOXI’s brilliant career. Last year they retired from the race with keel ram failure, and the year before they withdrew after the crew shredded the main while trying to reef during a squall on the first night at sea. – Anarchist david