Sydney Hobart race record holder to have repaired mast re stepped tomorrow

Bob Oatley’s all-conquering supermaxi, Wild Oats XI, will go one step closer to resuming preparations for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race tomorrow when the yacht’s new mast, which almost broke during preliminary trials two weeks ago, is re-stepped following major repairs.

It was only a quick reaction by the crew that prevented the 45-metre high carbon fibre mast from breaking in two and crashing over the side after it suffered what the yacht’s skipper, Mark Richards, described as a “catastrophic failure”.

“It’s a miracle the mast didn’t break,” Richards said. “One minute we were sailing along perfectly normally then there was an almighty bang as the section fractured.”

After more than 10 days of intense repair work, a large crane will lift the mast back into place aboard the yacht at Woolwich Dock, in Sydney, at 9.30am tomorrow.

The 30-metre long supermaxi – the most successful yacht to contest the Sydney Hobart race in its 69 year history – was being put through her paces 20 nautical miles off Sydney when the incident occurred. The mast section compressed and fractured at the point where the boom attaches to the mast.

Fortunately, representatives from the New Zealand-based mast manufacturer were aboard Wild Oats XI at the time, so plans for a repair were initiated immediately. A replacement section was made at the company’s facility then flown to Sydney. Technicians also flew to Sydney to coordinate the repair.

“Everyone is confident the repaired section is stronger and more than capable of accommodating the compression loads the boom exerts on the mast,” Mark Richards said. “Our big challenge now is to make up for the training time we have lost in preparation for the Rolex Sydney Hobart race.”

The rigging will be tensioned and the mast tuned at the dock tomorrow before sailing training resumes on Friday. The yacht will go into full race mode this weekend so the required 24-hour qualifying run for the Hobart race can be completed.

As race record holder, Wild Oats XI is seen as the boat to beat in the hunt for line honours in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart race. She will have the first showdown with her strongest challenger, Anthony Bell’s similar-sized, Perpetual Loyal, on Sydney Harbour next Tuesday. Both yachts are part of the impressive fleet entered for the Solas Big Boat Challenge – a curtain raiser for the 628 nautical mile Hobart classic, which starts on Boxing Day.