The CYCA's SOLAS Big Boat Challenge, one of Sydney's most spectacular sporting and harbor fixtures, has for 23 consecutive years marked the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart lead-up events. In 2015, the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge moved a week closer to the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in an effort to allow more International "Big Boats" to compete.
Yachts such as Wild Oats XI, Perpetual Loyal, Comanche and Black Jack have all been among the heavy hitters gunning for the Line Honours trophy, whilst "pocket maxis" such as Ichi Ban, Chinese Whisper often challenge for an IRC handicap win in this event.
For the ninth time, Wild Oats XI has won line honors in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual SOLAS Big Boat Challenge around Sydney Harbour. But this year there was no sense of deja-vu at all. This was a much tighter boat race than the 3 minutes between Wild Oats XI and Perpetual LOYAL at the finish line suggests.
This was an absorbing tussle between Wild Oats XI and Perpetual LOYAL that bodes well for an exciting line honors battle come the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Anthony Bell got his big, black Perpetual LOYAL off to a perfect start, opening out a solid lead to the first windward mark after a very uncharacteristic poor start by Mark Richards on Oats; Scallywag and Beau Geste also had their problems at the start, having to thread their way at high speed through spectator boats just moments after the start gun.
Be that as it may, Wild Oats XI may have won the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge again this year, but after a couple of excruciatingly disappointing years, Perpetual LOYAL is back.
And while this is always the day for showcasing the giants of ocean racing, the last finishing yacht, Rupert Henry’s Judel-Vrolijk 62, Chinese Whisper was the outstanding performer of the day. She may have finished behind the other six bigger, faster competitors, but she won the race on handicap by 4 minutes 50 seconds ahead of second placed Wild Oats XI.
Chinese Whisper seized the race by the throat on the first downwind leg, closing on Fort Denison behind the three super maxis, Oats, Scallywag and Perpetual LOYAL, but ahead of the 80 foot Beau Geste and the two V70s, Black Jack and Maserati. An extraordinary performance, and even though Beau Geste and Black Jack crept past her as Chinese Whisper found the deepest of holes off the iconic old fort, the smallest boat in the fleet was roaring, not whispering.
The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge took the yachts on a 14 nautical mile course, starting off Steele Point at Nielsen Park Vaucluse, down the Harbour to Manly for two and a half laps, taking in many of Sydney’s famous landmarks along the way, including Fort Denison, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Sydney Opera House.
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