What a race for line honours this turned out to be. To the casual observer of ocean racing, watching the Sydney to Hobart duel between Wild Oats XI and Ragamuffin-Loyal may have appeared a bit of a non-event.
Wild Oats led by a considerable margin from Sydney Heads, all the way to the Derwent, and barring a major equipment failure had the race in the bag after the first hour.
This race was completely different. It was a drag race for the whole 226 nautical miles (nm), with the result in doubt until the final minutes.
It was State of Origin on the high seas.
Bill Wild’s Reichel-Pugh 55 Wedgetail from the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, and Syd Fischer’s Tp 52 Ragamuffin from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron duelled all the way up the coast in better than expected conditions.
Both yachts finished within and hour and a half of the race record set in 2003 by Wild Oats IX. Not a bad effort for two smaller yachts without the benefit of canting keels.
The race was expected to start with fresh southerlies, with most, if not all yachts under spinnaker.
Shortly before the gun however, the wind swung to the southeasterly denying us the spectacular sight of the spinnaker start.
That didn’t slow the front-runners too much though. With the wind coming at a fairly steady 16knots Ragamuffin and Wedgetail leapt out of the blocks, reaching speeds of 12-13knots as they left Broken Bay, with the Queensland boat holding a slight lead of about 200metres.
After 45 minutes racing up the NSW Central Coast, Ragamuffin passed Wedgetail. They had already pulled 2nm ahead of the chasing fleet, with the Keman 44 Swish ahead of some of the more fancied yachts in the race for third.
For the remainder of the race, these two pulled further clear of the fleet with Ragamuffin almost always ahead, but never by more than a couple of nautical miles.
That is until just after 8am the following morning and with less than 7nm to go.
Wedgetail had a slight hiccup just after sunrise, when they dropped a spinnaker over the side. This turned out to be fortuitous as the replacement spinnaker they hoisted performed better in the conditions, which, in combination with her windward position for the final run to the line, proved decisive.
Wedgetail passed Ragamuffin with about 6nm to go and crossed the line just three and a half minutes ahead of the Syd Fischer skippered yacht. These two were six an a half hours ahead of their nearest challengers, with Swish taking third from the Keiko 52 Merlin by just 10 seconds.
In terms of handicap honours, just as in the Hobart classic, the conditions suited the big boats at the front.
Ragamuffin finished first on corrected time from Wedgetail with Merlin in third.
Ragamuffin’s corrected time had her an hour and fifty minutes ahead of Wedgetail, just showing how well she had performed in the race up the coast against the larger yacht.
As a side note, I hope that some of you had a look at the Yellowbrick yacht tracker for this race.
If you had, you would have seen how it is supposed to be done, unlike that other race on Boxing Day.
I hope the Cruising Yacht Club take note and allow Yellowbrick, who supplied the tracking hardware for the Sydney to Hobart, to take charge of the whole shooting match next time.