Is this strike three for Wild Oats XI?

Published on December 19th, 2017

The Reichel/Pugh 100 Wild Oats XI was launched in 2005 and immediately took the triple victory of line/race record/overall win in the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, a feat repeated in 2012. The maxi is an eight times line honours winner of the 628 nm offshore classic, but of late has had a run of bad luck.

She failed to finish in 2015 when her main split in half and a hydraulic ram failure in 2016 similarly derailed her. Eager to put the past behind, now Mother Nature is interfering.

Wild Oats XI was out of the water and in its cradle at Woolwich Dock, on Sydney Harbour, when a bolt of lightning struck the top of the 45-metre high carbon fibre mast during a thunderstorm early morning on December 17.

With a week to the start on December 26, it is uncertain at this stage if the yacht will be in full racing trim to compete.

The 10 million volt-plus discharge from the lightning destroyed a significant number of electronic instruments, all of which are vital if the yacht is to maintain maximum speed and stay on course during the race. What is not known at this stage is if any of the yacht’s carbon fibre rigging was damaged by the strike.

“It’s a major blow for us on the eve of the big race,” said owner Sandy Oatley. “However, I’m sure our great team will have everything ready for the start on Boxing Day. There is no stopping them.”

Sandy Oatley was quick to recognise the support offered to Wild Oats XI by Peter Harburg, owner of near sistership, Black Jack. On Harburg’s invitation, Wild Oats XI’s shore team manager, Paul Magee, flew to Brisbane today to see what equipment existed in Black Jack’s warehouse that might replace instruments damaged by the strike.

“That’s the spirit that exists in this level of ocean racing,” said Sandy Oatley. “We might be arch rivals on the race course, but we’re all supportive of each other when necessary.”

Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark Richards, said he was confident the yacht would be ready, believing no damage would be found in the rigging.

Another line honours favourite for the Hobart race, 100-ft LDV Comanche, which was docked alongside Wild Oats XI when the storm struck, was not impacted by the lightning strike.

The race starts on Boxing Day at 1300hrs AEDT and will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia.

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Source: Rob Mundle, CCYA, Scuttlebutt

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