A new sail the size of two tennis courts has been unveiled as Wild Oats XI’s secret weapon as she tries to win Sydney to Hobart yacht race line honours for a sixth time.
High-tech new keel ‘winglets’ and a retractable bow centreboard have also recently been added to the Bob Oatley, of Robert Oatley Vineyards in Mudgee, owned super maxi in a bid to make her much faster in light winds.
Wild Oats XI is the overwhelming favourite for the 2012 blue water classic and has shown superb form in all the lead-up races – including setting a new record in November’s Cabbage Tree Island 180 nautical mile race.
But she will face tough competition for line honours in the form of Ragamuffin Loyal – which pipped Wild Oats XI to victory in the 2011 Sydney-Hobart by just over three minutes – and the highly-fancied Wild Thing.
“We’re hurting from last year’s result,” Wild Oats XI sail trimmer Josh Whittaker said.
“The new modifications are worth seconds to us every mile.
“Last year, we lost by three minutes and, with these modifications, we could have been 12 minutes faster.”
The new headsail measures 535 square metres and was ordered by Oatley who said last year’s defeat “hurt like hell”.
His skipper Mark Richards described the new sail as like “replacing a rifle with a cannon” and insisted Wild Oats XI can complete the 628-nautical mile run down to Hobart in less than 24 hours – given the right weather conditions. That would break the yacht’s own race record of just over one day and 18 hours, which she set on the way to victory in 2005.
“We can’t control the weather but we can go into the race knowing that we can do no more when it comes to having the fastest possible yacht,” Richards said. “And that is the case this year.”
The new winglets are similar in principle to the wing tips on modern passenger aircraft and are designed to reduce drag. They were produced with help from Boeing and tested over two weeks in a hydrofoil tank in Tasmania.
Seventy seven boats are registered for the 68th Sydney to Hobart yacht race, starting on Boxing Day, including four super maxis and six previous overall winners.
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