Testing tactics for Oatley’s crew
THE crew of the Australian supermaxi, Wild Oats XI, is hanging on to hope as much as conviction in the 2225 nautical mile Transpac Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii, while dogged by frustratingly light and variable winds.
The big, silver-hulled sloop, which is entered in the classic race under a joint arrangement between American yachtsman Roy P. Disney and Australian owner Bob Oatley, was continuing to lead her class and make significant gains on the other divisions that had started days earlier.
But, with the race course being a minefield of calms and significant changes in wind direction, the 16-man Wild Oats XI crew knew it wouldn't take much for them to lose everything they had worked so hard to gain since the start last Saturday.
Ironically, after telling their Australian team mates prior to the start that this was one of the most exciting downwind races imaginable, the six Americans in the crew, who have more than 100 Transpacs between them, are now saying they've never seen a race like this one.
"The Americans are telling us this is the most complicated Transpac they've ever seen," said Wild Oats XI's navigator, Nick White.
"They've never sailed this far into the race and not had a jib set at any stage, nor have they ever had a spinnaker set so soon after the start."
White said the crew had a strategy, and we are sticking to it.
"But that doesn't mean we can't come unstuck very quickly," he said.
"The weather pattern is making it a nightmare tactically, as is evident by the courses some of our rivals are taking when compared to us.
"Here we are just over a quarter of the way to Hawaii and Syd Fisher's 100-footer, Ragamuffin, is some 150 nautical miles to the north-northeast of us and in a different weather pattern, while the other 100-footer, Rio100, is about 60 miles directly behind us and in a different system again.
"The only thing we have in common is that we're all trying our hardest to get over the top of the high pressure weather system that's ahead: a zone of little or no wind."
Regardless of the challenges, the Wild Oats XI crew is happy with the way the yacht has so far performed.