SYDNEY (AP) — Wild Oats XI begins its quest for a 10th line honors win in the Sydney to Hobart race beginning Thursday from Sydney Harbour. In early November that didn't seem possible after the super maxi sustained mast and deck rigging damage that put her spot in the 75th edition of the race in jeopardy.
“It's been six weeks of turmoil for us, we had a major failure in the boat which has been rectified," skipper Mark Richards said Wednesday. "We were very lucky to get away with it to be honest and to actually be here on the starting line. Fortunately we got to fix it properly and make the boat strong in that area and the boat is going better than she has ever gone before."
Built in 2005, the oldest of the super maxis is in good shape to take on 100-foot rivals, Comanche, Black Jack, Infotrack and SHK Scallywag 100.
With fewer sails and crew on board and all the dagger boards replaced by one central board, Wild Oats IX is much lighter than last year.
"The boat is performing way, way better than it's ever performed upwind in all conditions, so that's been a good thing, I think it's going to help us a lot in this race," Richards said.
Only 42 minutes separated the first four finishers to Hobart last year and Comanche skipper Jim Cooney expects another close contest.
"I think conditions are probably going to keep us even tighter this year, so I think you'll see us very, very close together all the way down the coast," said Cooney, who expects his boat's 2017 race record of 1 day, 9 hours and 15 minutes to remain intact.
Two-time line honors winner Comanche is expected to set the pace out of Sydney Harbour on the way to the island state of Tasmania with Cooney committed to pushing the boat hard in the northerly breezes forecast for the early hours of the race.
The fourth-largest fleet in the race's history — 157 yachts — will be spread across four start lines with the smoky haze which has plagued Sydney over the past month due to nearby bush fires not expected to affect the start of the race.
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