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After two years of frustration, Wild Oats XI will aim to claim a staggering ninth line honours victory in the 2017 Sydney to Hobart, but once again will face stiff opposition on the 628-nautical mile trek south. Join The Roar for live coverage of the race from 1pm (AEDT) on Boxing Day.
Wild Oats were heavy favourites to break their own record and win a ninth line honours crown until about a week ago, when the yacht was struck by lightning on the dock in Sydney.
It is reported to have fried most of their electrical system and caused unspecified damage, with the crew in a race against time ever since to get Australia’s most famous boat ready for the bluewater classic.
It’s another stroke of bad luck for Wild Oats after they were forced to retire from the race two years in a row – in 2015 with a torn mainsail and in 2016 with keel damage.
The other major favourites are LDV Comanche and Infotrack. Comanche, formerly owned in the USA was bought by former Brindabella owner Jim Cooney. The yacht returns to the race after winning in 2015 and missing last yar.
Infotrack is last year’s line honours winner when it was formerly owned by Anthony Bell and raced under the name Perpetual Loyal.
Black Jack, who has gone under major renovations this year and gave Wild Oats a run for its money in the Sydney-Gold Coast race and won the Big Boats Challenge last week is the other favourite.
The weather forecast may play right into the hands of Black Jack and Wild Oats. The forecast is for a non-spinnaker, relatively slow start with south-easterly winds, before they switch around and a north-easterly wind aids most of the race.
The leaders are then expected to round Tasman Island on Wednesday evening, leaving them stranded in the Derwent River during the typically dead nighttime hours. If the winds remain low and fickle, it should allow Black Jack and Wild Oats to catch the leaders after falling behind Infotrack and Commanche down the coast.
The timing off arrival into the Derwent will be critical, deciding who wins and whether a race record can be broken or not.
Comanche and Infotrack are much better in the heavier, downwind conditions, but once in the river Wild Oats and Black Jack could make significant ground.
The forecast also means the mid-range, 50-foot yachts such as Ichi Ban and Beau Geste will come into favouritism for handicap.
Paul Clitheroe and Bob Steel’s Quest (formerly Balance), Maserati and last year’s winner Wizard (formerly Giacomo) are also expected to be at the front of the field when it comes to handicap and the Tattersalls Cup.
In truth, any boats in the 45-55 feet class could take the handicap, with Celestial and Derucci also rated to be in contention.
11 nations are represented in this years race as well as Australia, alonside 11 yachts from the Clipper World Series.
It’s impossible to go past the professional organisation of Wild Oats XI to get back onto the winners list after so much bad luck. If, however, she isn’t racing at full fitness, the conditions point to Black Jack being the best bet.
In the handicap race, the 52-foot Ichi Ban should take victory, finishing early on Wednesday afternoon.
Wild Oats for line honours, Ichi Ban for handicap.
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