Old hands on deck: Between Garry Innes, Craig Chisholm, Ray Benson and Mark Doran, there are almost 100 sails in the Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race.
Old hands on deck: Between Garry Innes, Craig Chisholm, Ray Benson and Mark Doran, there are almost 100 sails in the Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race. Bruce Thomas

Record million dollar fleet

DURING the next week or so, the ‘real estate value’ of the Coffs Harbour port precinct will soar by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Around 60 boats – including some of the most famous ocean racers on the planet – will berth in and around the waters of the city in the wake of the 30th Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race.

The fleet will assemble tomorrow at Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and face the starter’s gun off Barrenjoey Headland at 1pm.

And once the skippers turn left out of Sydney Heads and fill their sails, the 226-nautical mile race will be furiously under way.

Newly-installed Coffs Harbour Yacht Club Commodore, Garry Innes, has been like a cat on a hot tin roof since being shoe-horned into the top job two weeks back.

In recent days his life has sped up dramatically as rumours continually sweep the yachting world that Bob Oatley’s mighty racer Wild Oats XI would attempt to win the Sydney-Hobart and Pittwater-Coffs double for the second time.

To do that she would need to be switched at the last moment in place of ‘little sister’ Wild Oats X who is already the race favourite, and while half-hearted denials have been made, the story refuses to go away.

“I’ve tried and I’ve tried to get somebody to open up but no one is game to come straight out and say Bob’s big boat will be the one,” Innes laughed.

“Read into that what you like and by the same token, they haven’t come out flatly and denied it, either.

“All we know for sure is that Mark Richards and the crew that won the Hobart race will be on whatever they send and, on that score alone, it’s going to make this a landmark race.”

Weather forecasts are predicting an enormous southerly is timed to get behind the race leaders around the moment they hit open sea and in the hands of the right skipper, who’s experienced in the run, a new race record is on the cards.

“If that’s the case and Richards is sailing Wild Oats X, I’d say a new record is highly likely,” Innes predicted.

“The boat may be Bob’s toy, which he and his mates play around with in the middle of the week, but she’s still awful fast.

“On the other hand, if they do eventually switch to the bigger boat and Richards gets a big southerly, they’ll obliterate the record.

“You can water-ski behind Wild Oats XI when she gets flying and these blokes know every inch of that water and the best places to sail her.”

Of the other main contenders, the city’s ‘honorary’ entry – Bruce Absolom’s Nikon Spirit Of The Maid – will be crewed by Coffs Coast locals Craig Chisholm, Ray Benson and Mark Doran.

All sailed in that first 1981 event and each can boast more than 20 starts in the ‘warm water classic’.

And the Benson family will always be connected with Booze Bus, first on corrected time in 1984 and still to be seen during the year in the Bellbowrie Audi Twilight series.

Organisers are still confident dual Sydney-Hobart winner Brindabella will make a late entry along with four (or more) withdrawals from the Hobart run if they can complete repairs in time to make it to the starting line.

Other chances include Bob Steel’s Quest, a previous handicap winner of the Sydney to Hobart in 2008, and Julian Farren-Price’s About Time, which has podiumed consistently over the past two years and can boast a handicap victory from 2009.

Jayhawk is one of the veterans and the smallest boat in the fleet at 35 feet.

This will be her 12th Coffs race and she is the defending PHS champion from the 2010 race and the experienced crew will be hoping for wind on the nose for much of the race.

Finally, Second Time Around was designed and built by the owner, John McConaghy and as a cruising and racing boat has forged a reputation as a top line competitor.

Shorthanded sailing for two- or three-person crews will be introduced this year with six boats in the line-up.

At one end of the spectrum is Future Shock with a 60-foot water ballast which will be quite a handful for the three crew while at the other end of the spectrum is Skippy.

At 21 feet, this mini is also quite a handful with a large amount of sail area and a canting keel.

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