A whale of a time
By CRAIG McTEAR
IF you're a sailor, running into a whale would have to be one of your worst fears.
That's precisely what happened to legendary pocket maxi Wild Oats X south of Coffs Harbour this week.
Thankfully, a helmsman narrowly missed being smashed by the leviathan's tail flukes.
The collision forced the seven-member crew to take shelter at Coffs Harbour, and they set about repairing the stricken yacht at first light yesterday.
The repair bill for the 2006 Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race winner could be as much as $20,000.
The $2.5 million beauty, owned by winegrower Bob Oatley, was enroute from Sydney to Hamilton Island when the crew heard a loud bang at 3am Tuesday. They were at that stage 90 nautical miles south of Coffs Harbour.
"The whale hit the forward rudder, bending the hydraulic steering arm, and then a few seconds later, the flukes of the whale rose from the water and slapped the stern of the boat," skipper Troy Tindall said.
"The stainless-steel stern posts and stanchions were bent and the life lines were ripped from the stern."
A heavy duty crane operating in strong gusts yesterday lifted Wild Oats X from its berth at the international marina, where team manager Iain Smith made his inspection.
He said there had been 'superficial' damage only, with no structural problems.
"All the wheels escaped damage. The steering was left intact," Mr Smith said.
"The hole in the deck was repaired last night, while the rudder had superficial carbon damage.
"It's comforting the boat was strong enough to withstand the collision. It shows it is well-engineered."
The encounter also sparked electrical problems when the hydraulic pump activated.
Luckily, Hahn Premium Race Week at Hamilton Island is four weeks away, giving the crew enough time to fix the damaged rudder and prepare Wild Oats X for the big event.
"The boat was in perfect condition and ready to race when it left Sydney on Monday afternoon, but it will be ready to go again," Mr Smith said.
The crew is due to leave Coffs Harbour this morning and hopes to reach the Whitsundays by Saturday.
The Oatley family, which owns Hamilton Island, made ocean racing history last Christmas when their 30-metre supermaxi Wild Oats XI won Sydney to Hobart.
A week later, the 20-metre canting keel Wild Oats X took line honours in the Pittwater to Coffs Harbour race.