The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the sport of sailing everywhere. Even in Australia, a country that has been able to dodge the worst of the pandemic, no regular competition or event has remained intact or unaffected. 

Perhaps the best single barometer of these forces at work is the current entry list for this year’s Sydney-Hobart Race. The start is still 168 days off, but usually by this time there would already be 60-70 yachts confirming their intention to sail the 628nm sprint South. As this week ends there are 43 entries. No doubt that number will grow as we approach the Boxing Day start, but the list as it stands is interesting.

The most obvious absences (at least so far) are the 100-footers – the supermaxis whose line-honours battles have dominated media coverage of the race for more than a decade. Rolex, as sponsors, and the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia publicists must surely be concerned.

Comanche has been sold, is no longer in Australian waters and is unlikely to return. InfoTrack (formerly Loyal, formerly Speedboat) is mothballed in Brisbane and her owner has reportedly lost interest in racing. That takes two of the ‘Big Five’ out of the equation. 

What of the other three? Scallywag (formerly Ragamuffin 100) is down from Asia, intends to race, but the team are yet to lodge their paperwork. Ditto Black Jack (formerly Europa, formerly Alfa Romeo), which is returning from Europe.  Wild Oats XI – the most famous of these giant, sloop-rigged anachronisms – is in hibernation in the shed in Sydney, de-rigged, without her keel and wrapped in plastic (see picture). 

There’s little doubt WOXI will emerge to compete in the Sydney-Hobart but normally she would be heading North by now to race in the Hamilton Island Regatta. The Oatley family, who own the supermaxi, also own the island resort. Her little sister – the 66-foot Wild Oats X – will be going in her place.

Why? Well, it seems that the Coronavirus is indirectly to blame. At a time when many businesses in Australia have had to lay off most of their workforce, millionaires playing boats in 100-footers at a tropical resort with 20 professional crew (plus support staff) is not such a good PR look. 

– anarchist David