The warm-up races for the 36th America’s Cup kicked off last week in Auckland, New Zealand, with barely a whimper despite Team New Zealand defending the cup it won in Bermuda in 2017 in the familiar surrounds of the Hauraki Gulf.
Here are the contenders to take out the 69th Sydney to Hobart, starting on Boxing Day 2013.
1. The Supermaxis
This is the first of a series articles looking at the contenders for this year’s race.
I will be looking at both Line Honours and Handicap contenders in turn, and as a we get closer to the start and some more accurate weather forecasts, I will be making some predictions as to who to look out for to take out the event this year.
As of today there are set to be 94 starters on Boxing Day, the largest fleet for a number of years, and a decent field ahead of next years 70th event.
The fleet includes five Supermaxis, and 18 maxis (70-90 foot yachts) including the Clipper 70 fleet that is including the Sydney to Hobart as part of its round the world race along with some ex Volvo Round the World Race vessels.
We will start by looking at the Supermaxis
1. Wild Oats XI Skipper Mark Richards
2. Perpetual Loyal, Skipper Anthony Bell
3. Wild Thing, Skipper Grant Wharington
4. Ragamuffin 100, Skipper Syd Fischer
5. Zefiro, Skipper Gerhard Reuther
The two hotshots in this group are without doubt Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal, although the others cannot be discounted, especially if they get weather that suits them.
Zefiro is the real outsider in this group. She is basically a cruiser/racer unlike the outright racers the other four are in this group, they have very few creature comforts, a fact that is unlikely to go unnoticed by some of the “celebrities” on Loyal who are going south for the very first time.
She is hoping for strong southerlies to bring her into contention, but it would take a great deal of good fortune for Zefiro to take Line honours.
Ragamuffin 100 took Line Honours as Investec Loyal in 2011 and as Ragamuffin Loyal finished second to Wild Oats last year. While she has a great skipper and crew, she will have a tough job trying to mix it with the two superstars unless all the cards fall her way.
Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing is possibly capable of sticking with the big two if we get running conditions all the way to Hobart.
She has been extensively remodelled, and was all set to take on Wild Oats XI last year when a controversy over the paperwork saw her banished from the race. Grant Wharington will be looking for revenge, but will need ideal conditions.
That leaves the big two six time Line Honours winner Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal. Wild Oats XI is now eight years old, a veteran in offshore racing terms, but Bob Oatley and his team led by Mark Richards, have not been resting on their laurels, making modifications each year to try an keep her ahead of the field.
This year in addition to the retractable bow centerboard and twin daggerboards, they have added a set of horizontal foils just below the waterline, which are extended when the yacht is running downwind.
The foils are deployed when Wild Oats is travelling above 20 knots, and act by lifting the bow, reducing the likelihood of the bow plunging into a wave and stripping off boat speed.
This will prove vital in running conditions against Perpetual LoyalHer mast has also been replaced by a lighter more streamlined version, which has reportedly had a few problems as have been widely reported.
Although denied by the Wild Oats Team, I suspect it is a part of the reason she was running under a reefed mainsail during the CYCA Trophy Race on Saturday.
Anthony Bell took Line Honours in 2011 with Investec Loyal, this year however he has a completely different vessel, Perpetual Loyal. She is set to take the fight up to Wild Oats XI all the way to Hobart.
Formerly known as Speedboat and Rambler 100, she is reputedly the fastest 100 foot yacht in the world. As Rambler 100 she had her division of the 2011 Fastnet Race sewn up, when she lost her keel and capsized.
Since salvaged and rebuilt, we have only seen Loyal once in actual competition recently, when she finished second to Wild Oats XI in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge, a blown sail possibly costing her the win.
Since then Bell has been honing his crew and yacht outside the heads in an attempt to slip under the radar, but my mail is that she is extremely fast in all conditions, particularly downwind.
Rumour has it that she is capable of 45 knots running downwind. If that is the case, then she will be too fast even for the great Wild Oats XI.
The Line Honours winner should come from this group and most likely it will be either Wild Oats XI or Perpetual Loyal, the weather forecast determining who will start as favourite. However, as in all good thrillers there is a dark horse on the horizon, and it sits in the next group, the Maxis.