CYCA Big Boat Challenge changes name to support SOLAS Trust, plus your eBay chance to fire the starting cannon 29/10/07

The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia has announced two exciting enhancements to its annual maxi showdown on Sydney Harbour in the countdown to the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

The spectacular maxi yacht race, formerly the CYCA Big Boat Challenge, has been renamed after the club’s own charity, the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Trusts, and this year places on a number of competing maxis and the chance to fire the starting cannon will be auctioned off on eBay to the highest bidders.

For the first time in the event’s 14 year history, the multi-million dollar fleet of up to 20 maxis and pocket maxis ranging from 18 to 30 metres will be sparring on the Harbour on Tuesday 11 December for a good cause, one that could very well assist them should they strike trouble at sea.

The 2007 SOLAS Big Boat Challenge will mark the first opportunity for three of the four Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours contenders to eye each other off in a racing format. All eyes will be trained on the three 30 metre gladiators in town to prepare for the Boxing Day ocean classic, in particular Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI, which will make its racing comeback in this event after being dramatically dismasted in Italy in September during the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.

Wild Oats XI is now back in the Sydney and will spend until the end of November on the hardstand at Woolwich Dock undergoing minor repairs to its keel, fittings, life lines and stern rails, before its new mast is stepped. The crew will also use this time to convert the boat from a “Mediterranean racing yacht to a boat that can make it to Hobart” says watch captain Iain Smith.

The back-to-back Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours winner in 2005 and 2006, and winner of the 2005 Tattersalls Cup (overall handicap winner), will sail against the 2003 Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours victor, Grant Wharington’s Skandia from Melbourne, and newcomer to the event, Bill Buckley’s New Zealand maxi, Maximus.

The race crew for Mike Slade’s brand-new 30m ICAP Leopard from the UK, which took line honours and smashed the race record in the tough Rolex Fastnet Race in August, is due to arrive in Sydney on 19 December so at this stage, skipper Chris Sherlock is not planning to enter the boat in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge. Instead, they will focus their attention on achieving the boat’s second major line honours win this year, this time in the 63rd Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

The tight 14-mile Harbour course will only offer these canting keel giants limited room to stretch out but it will provide Sydneysiders with a unique opportunity to see the might of these maxis before they line up again on 26 December for the serious business of trying to beat each other to Hobart.

The CYCA has this year decided to dedicate the event to raise awareness and funds for its SOLAS Trusts, which were established following the stormy 1998 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race when six lives were lost.

Matt Allen, CYCA Commodore, SOLAS Trusts chairman and skipper of the Jones 70 Ichi Ban, which will be a starter on the 11th, is proud to today announce that the 2007 event will be known as the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge, and that the CYCA will use eBay to auction places aboard competing boats with the proceeds raised going to the SOLAS Trusts.

Wild Oats XI, Skandia, Ichi Ban and the 1997 Sydney Hobart line honours winner Andrew Short Marine Brindabella have already committing to providing two guest spots each to the highest bidders. The opportunity to fire the 19th century replica cannon to start the race will also be auctioned on eBay at the end of November.

“The chance to fire the cannon to start the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge or sail on a Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours contender are once in a lifetime opportunities. With the support of the community we hope to raise significant funds on the day for the SOLAS Trusts,” said Commodore Allen.

“Skippers will be supporting the SOLAS Trusts by offering guest places and the club will support the day by donating entry fees.

“It is fitting that those who enjoy the adventure of racing to Hobart or pleasure boating on their local waters support the charity that has so far donated close to $350,000 to search and rescue organisations in every Australian state.

“In last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart, Maximus experienced first hand the relevance of the SOLAS Trusts’ good work when three injured crew were airlifted from the boat by SouthCare Aero Medical and Rescue Helicopter, the recipient of a $20,000 SOLAS donation back in 2002,” added Commodore Allen.

The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge will start at 12.30pm off Steele Point at Nielsen Park and will take the fleet twice around Sydney Harbour, passing popular tourist destinations such as Lady Macquarie’s Chair and Fort Denison before finishing for the cameras in front of the Opera House.

For the first time, the CYCA will also offer spectators the chance to view the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge from aboard a spectator vessel. Tickets for the three-hour charter (12pm-3pm), which will depart from the CYCA in Rushcutters Bay on Tuesday 11 December, are $90 per person including lunch (cash bar). Tickets are available from CYCA reception on 02 8292 7800 or email from the charter will also go to the SOLAS Trusts.