Thrilling finish to race
By ROB KOTHE
THE Silver Anniversary Pittwater to Coffs race was set for a thrilling conclusion last night, as the sixty footer Wild Joe, the current race record holder, was close on the heels of the sixty six footer Wild Oats, just south of the Coffs Harbour finish line.
Any race record chances the boats had disappeared late Monday night, when the wind eased away to nothing at Seal Rocks.
The entire fleet has been sailing slowly all day.
At 2pm yesterday afternoon Bob Oatley's Wild Oats X, the little sister of the last week's Sydney to Hobart winner, the 30 metre (98 foot) Wild Oats XI, came inshore after a fruitless offshore search for wind to discover that Stephen David's Wild Joe, the current Pittwater Coffs race record holder (and formerly Wild Oats IX), had found good wind along the beach and closed the gap to less than a mile, just south of Smokey Cape.
David Dickson, the Navigator on the 'Oats' commented, 'We can't afford to make a mistake, otherwise those guys will sail right through us.' "We are leading them on the water and should claim line honours, but the guys behind us look like they can take a handicap victory," he said.
However at 4pm, there was less than 150 metres between the two pocket maxis, so the racing is very close.
Behind them the Wild Joe crew were jubilant.
"Oats has been trying to get their big Code Zero working and there is not enough breeze, we are closing in," commented Glen Attrill from the navigation station.
If Oatley and his crew, with Mark Richards on the helm, can hold out Joe then it will be a historic moment in Australian sailing history.
No one owner has ever won back to back Sydney to Hobart and Pittwater Coffs races.
Oatley the 78 year old billionaire winemaker who founded the Rosemount label, has been a long time supporter of the race to Coffs Harbour.
His home club in Sydney, the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, started this race 25 years ago.
Oatley with another 'Alfreds' sailor Colin O'Neill, he won the famous Admiral's Cup, considered the pinnacle of offshore teams racing in 2003 and along with his skipper Mark Richard's sailed the then Wild Oats IX to victory, beating Spain in the final race.
Wild Oats X was built to defend the Admirals Cup and that defence will happen at the Hamilton Island resort on the Great Barrier Reef, if Oatley, who owns the island has his way.
Until then, the Admirals Cup remains proudly on display in the foyer of the 'Alfreds' in Newport, NSW.
It was his intentions to have Wild Oats XI return from Hobart, for the start of the 25th race, however it the dying stages of the race, just 40 miles from the finish line Oats XI broke her 'gooseneck' fitting between mast and boom.
She limped, as only a 98 foot Supermaxi can, toward the Hobart finish line, still doing speeds of up to 18 knots to take a treble victory, a new race record, 67 minutes inside Volvo 60 Nokia's 1999 time, line honours ahead of Alfa Romeo and the overall handicap win.
However, the boat has still been unable to set sail for Pittwater undergoing repairs in Hobart so Oatley went to Plan B with Oats X.
Standing proudly on the deck as the boat entered the harbour, Oatley would have been keen for a glass or two of Rosemount Chardonnay if able to hold off her smaller rival