SYDNEY (AFP) -Supermaxi Wild Oats XI sets sail on Friday aiming to win line honours for the eighth time in Australia’s top yacht race, with state-of-the-art American newcomer Comanche out to halt its dominance.
The 70th Sydney to Hobart bluewater classic has drawn its biggest fleet in two decades, with last year’s fastest skipper believing the record time could be smashed.
“There’s many boats in the fleet that can kill that record,” Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards said last week of the 2012 mark of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set by his boat.
His optimism may be short lived with strong southerly winds forecast for soon after the start followed by lighter westerlies as the front-runners turn across the treacherous Bass Strait.
“It is definitely a challenging weather situation, but so it is in every Hobart race,” Wild Oats XI navigator Juan Vila said on Monday after hearing the updated forecast.
The fleet for this year’s 628 nautical mile race, which starts in Sydney Harbour before running down the east coast then across the Bass Strait to Hobart, stands at 117 – the largest since 1994.
“It’s such a high standard and represents a good cross section of yachts from all over Australia as well as 10 international entries,” Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore John Cameron said.
The international contingent comes from New Zealand, the Cayman Islands, Britain, Poland, Germany and the United States.