Flying Finn eyes favourite Wild Oats in Sydney to Hobart


Sydney (AFP)

Australia's blue water Sydney to Hobart classic will this year see the domination of eight-time line honours winner Wild Oats challenged by a Scandinavian dark horse and a Korean debut among more Asian entries.

Four supermaxis will tackle the gruelling 628-nautical-mile race among a field of 93, organisers said Wednesday, with local hero Wild Oats the favourite.

Skipper Mark Richards can't forget last year's shock retirement with a split mast and said improvements had been made.

"We've learnt a lot from last year," he said at the official launch for the December 26 race.

"Our preparation this year has been fantastic," including thousands of miles of sailing and some "tweaking".

Richards has removed the yacht's horizontal hydrofoil, explaining that a new 11-metre long forward section of the hull negated the need for it. It also makes the vessel 300 kilograms lighter.

Wild Oats XI, which will be racing in its 12th Sydney to Hobart, "is still a great machine," he added.

Finn Ludde Ingvall took line honours in 2000 and 2004 and he is back for 2016 with Nicorette completely redesigned and renamed CQS.

The 90-foot maxi has grown into a 100-foot supermaxi in a bid to rival the world's fastest yachts, with legendary New Zealand skipper Chris Dixon at the helm.

Ingvall, who lives in Sydney, rates Wild Oats "the best yacht in the world", despite its early retirement last year allowing US supermaxi Comanche to win in two days, eight hours, 58 minutes and 30 seconds.

"It's not the same boat," he told reporters about CQS. "From the mast forward, it's new and from the steering backwards it's new. She's a very radical thing, incorporating a lot of ideas.

"We should be good in light airs," he added. "In some conditions we will be up there but we are focusing on taking the boat to the finish line."

That's the ambition of most entrants for the 72nd version of the race from Sydney down Australia's east coast and across the wild Bass Strait to Hobart.

- Arrive in one piece -

Another rebadged supermaxi is Scallywag, now owned by Hong Kong businessman Seng Huang Lee, which came second in line honours last year as Ragamuffin.

Supermaxi Perpetual Loyal is also back for another tilt after pulling out of the previous two races with damage.

Among 12 international entries, the Korea Ocean Sailing Club has chartered a 52-footer and named it Sonic for the nation's first Sydney to Hobart.

Team Korea is mostly from Seoul and Busan with experience from the America's Cup, while skipper Kwangmin 'Andrew' Rho contested last year's race aboard Flying Fish Arctos, the organisers said.

China has two entries for 2016 with Dong Qing back with Ark323 and a new crew after a stormy debut ended in early retirement for the country's first ever entry last year.

"We did not expect 50-knot winds," Qing said of the savage southerlies that blasted the race in 2015, with dozens of boats pulling out.

"This year we are going to be better."

Overall handicap honours went to Australia's Balance last December with the TP52 competing again, hoping for a second successive crown.

"We will be doing our damnedest to get there in one piece," said owner Paul Clitheroe.