THE skipper and owner of British super-maxi City Index Leopard, Mike Slade, says this year's Sydney to Hobart yacht race will be his boat's only shot at the race honours. Slade said the cost of mounting a Hobart campaign - upwards of £300,000 ($700,000) - and the desire to quickly establish the pedigree of his new 45-tonne boat, which has already won the prestigious Fastnet race in record time, meant that this year's race fell in the "slot of time when it is the yacht to beat".
"I want it [Hobart victory] badly, it cost a lot of money, a lot of effort and a lot of time," Slade said.
But the weather forecast is conspiring against Slade and his heavier boat, and strongly favouring the lighter super-maxi rivals, two-time winner Wild Oats XI, Skandia and the reconfigured Volvo 70 boat, Ichi Ban. Slade said the long range forecast of north-easterly winds of between 20 and 30 knots would mean all four boats would break the race record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds set by Wild Oats XI in 2005. In those spinnaker-flying conditions, his boat would lag.
"It is horrible," he said of the forecast, which will be updated on Friday morning.
"We should buy an ice-cream and forget the whole thing. What we want is a sou'-easterly in more than 12 knots the whole way there, and I am sure that at some stage we will get them."
Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards(with line honours trophy above) said the forecast was "too good to be true", so much so his boat could even figure in overall handicap contention despite its very high handicap rating.
"We have got some big furling, reaching headsails, and a mainsail of 900 square metres so we could still be in there on handicap if the winds are right, but if it is upwind like last year, we will have no hope in hell," Richards said.
Slade said a Wild Oats XI victory would be exceptional because the Bob Oatley-owned boat would have beaten the newer and latest design boats. He said the advancements in technology were so rapid a boat usually only had an 18-month window before a newer, faster boat was launched.
"It is unusual for one boat to dominate repeatedly at this level, and to win three times is pretty exceptional - the reason is new boats are designed and the technology moves on," Slade said.
"Wild Oats XI is a narrower boat but now, after the Volvo 70's the [latest] design is wider, with a chine [more of a square shape] and the deeper canting keels. Already in New Zealand there is a boat being built that will probably be quicker than us."
Wild Oats XI is at $1.55 for line honours with Leopard at $3 with TAB Sportsbet. But Slade said he got $8 on Leopard back in England and forecast the odds for his boat would shorten further if the weather forecast changed.
Reproduced courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald
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