Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - Page 19 News List

‘Wild Oats XI’ tipped for Sydney Hobart race success

AFP , SYDNEY

Eleven overseas boats have registered for this year’s Sydney Hobart yacht race, with Australia’s Wild Oats XI the favorite to take line honors in the blue water classic for the fourth successive year.

The 100-strong fleet takes to the starting line here today with favorable winds forecast for the 628-nautical mile (1,160km) race down the Australian eastern seaboard to the Tasmanian capital.

This year’s contingent of overseas entrants is the biggest in recent memory, but none looks likely to challenge Wild Oats XI, a 30m state-of-the-art maxi, with bookmakers expecting her to lead the way again.

While Wild Oats XI has taken line honors for the past three years, overseas raiders have enjoyed more success in the chase for overall or handicap victory.

Last year, American boat Rosebud was the winner on corrected time ahead of three of this year’s leading Australian contenders, Syd Fischer’s TP52 Ragamuffin; Ray Robert’s Quantum Racing and Bruce Taylor’s Chutzpah.

Under race rules, 74 of this year’s fleet of 100 are eligible to win on handicap.

Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore Matt Allen said it was unlikely any of the imports would beat the local contenders for handicap honors, which is based on the boat’s dimensions.

“There’s certainly a couple of good international boats that would have a chance, but I’d probably favor some of the Australian boats,” Allen said. “I think Quantum Racing has won a lot in the ocean over the last one or two years, it’s certainly a boat to watch.”

While Wild Oats XI and Skandia are expected to relish the forecast northerly breezes over the first 24 hours of the race, the smaller boats may have to contend with less favorable conditions later in the race.

A predicted change late tomorrow with the wind swinging to the west could play a factor in the battle for handicap honors, while close to gale force westerlies of up to 35 knots could make it hard work for some of the smaller and slower boats by Monday.

“It’s a bit hard to pick who is going to benefit from the weather, I think it’s hard to pick a winner for the race,” Allen said.

“Normally you have a feeling for a few different types of boats that could win the race, you could probably still pick out a few sectors that could win.”

“But with that very flaky Saturday night forecast, it’s very hard to pick exactly how that is going to evolve on different parts of the race course,” he said.

This year’s race marks the 10th anniversary of the deadly 1998 race when six sailors were lost at sea in a powerful storm.

Five yachts sank and 66 boats retired in a fleet of 115 in a marine tragedy that generated world headlines.

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