Bob Oatley's maxiyacht Wild Oats XI wins today's Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour 12/12/06

Bob Oatley’s, Wild Oats XI, one of the fastest maxis in the world and current Rolex Sydney Hobart race record holder and defending overall and line honours winner, began her defence preparations with an ominous line honours win in today’s Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour.

As she sped towards the finish line off the Opera House on a cold and grey Sydney day, surrounded by a flotilla of spectator craft, the question hung in the air – was this a sign of things to come when in two weeks today, Wild Oats XI lines up for the Rolex Sydney Hobart?

Not too far behind Wild Oats XI however, was Grant Wharington’s overhauled Melbourne maxi Skandia which only arrived into Sydney at daybreak this morning. Skandia left Eden yesterday, where they sought shelter from a strong headwind encountered during the delivery from Melbourne, and sailed all night to make the start of today’s race.

Sporting new livery, Skandia led the impressive 18-boat fleet around the first mark of the 14-mile course and again around Fort Denison but wasn’t able to hold out Wild Oat’s XI during the spinnaker run down the harbour to South Head. Skandia stayed in touch with the newer state-of-the-art maxi, finishing two minutes astern and showing good boat speed potential today, but wasn’t able to peg them back.

Grant Wharington commented: “We got a good start and we were able to stay with Wild Oats until we had a small problem with the keel which allowed Wild Oats to stretch away. We were very encouraged by the performance of the boat today.”

After hanging back to avoid the chaos of the start line, Matt Allen’s modified Volvo 70 Ichi Ban, with the talented sail maker and international yachtsman Michael Coxon calling tactics, powered to the front of the fleet and led Wild Oats XI to the first mark, to fall into line behind frontrunner Skandia.

“The boat is going well. Today was a good race track with good pressure and good angles,” said Allen this afternoon who also admitted these boats have definite limitations in light air. “If today was re-run in 5-6 knots we wouldn’t have been near those guys [Skandia and Wild Oats XI],” Allen said.

After Ichi Ban’s impressive start, the waterline length of the 30 metre maxis soon came into play as the modified Volvo 70 was relegated to third place which is where she stayed until the finish. Ichi Ban’s impressive performance in its first match-up against boats of a similar size and larger was enough to give Matt Allen his second IRC handicap win in as many days.

Best smaller boat performance today came from Geoff Morgan and Andrew Banks’ You’re Hired which picked up a third in the IRC division behind Steven David’s Wild Joe.

In the PHS division, Kookaburra Challenge’s DHL, one of two Volvo 60’s racing in today’s Big Boat Challenge and also contesting the Rolex Sydney Hobart, beat Charles Curran’s Sydney and Skandia to round off the PHS podium placings.

At this stage Ichi Ban and Wild Oats XI are due to go head to head as part of the four day Rolex Trophy Rating Series to be sailed off Sydney Heads starting Thursday 14 December however, Allen hinted today he may not contest the entire series while he awaits a new set of sails from the United States. The Rolex Trophy Rating Series is the final regatta in the lead up to the Boxing Day start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart.