Wild Oats XI in race against time after being struck by lightning

Wild Oats XI heads out of Sydney Heads at the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Monday 26 December 2016. Photo: Andrew Meares Wild Oats XI will be put through its paces on Sydney Harbour on Wednesday to learn whether it can still contest this year’s Sydney To Hobart after being struck by lightning on Sunday.

Owner Sandy Oatley is confident the eight-time line honours winner will still contest the 73rd classic, despite several navigation computers being damaged during the electrical storm. It is not known yet if any carbon fibre rigging was damaged during the storm.

Race favourite Comanche was docked next to Wild Oats XI when she was hit, but escaped from the incident unscathed.

It continues a wretched run of luck for the super maxi which has been forced to retire from the last two editions of the race.

The yacht was in its cradle out of the water at its Woolwich dock undergoing pre-race observations when the bolt of lightning hit the 45-metre high carbon mast.

“[It was] out of the water doing pre-Hobart checks … in an electrical storm the mast got struck by lightning and we’ve damaged a lot of the wiring and computers on the boat,” Oatley told Fairfax Media on Tuesday night.

“Some of the processes of the navigation side of the sailing systems on the boat, they’re damaged. There are only two in Australia so we’ve bought those and we’re freighting two from America.

“Black Jack has lent us two of theirs from their Volvo 70, which is up in Brisbane. That’s a great effort.

“They’re sailing tomorrow [Wednesday] hopefully and we’ll work out anything else that’s gone wrong. We don’t know until we get it all fired up and get all the computers working and see what doesn’t work. That’s life.”

Wild Oats XI’s shore team manager Paul Magee travelled to Brisbane on Tuesday where Peter Harburg’s Black Jack Volvo 70 is stationed, and procured the navigation equipment that needed replacing.

“That’s the spirit that exists in this level of ocean racing,” Oatley said.

“We might be arch rivals on the race course, but we’re all supportive of each other when necessary.”

Skipper Mark Richards was confident the yacht would be ready to sail on Boxing Day.

“I’d like the think that this is the third strike when it comes to bad luck for Wild Oats XI in the Hobart race,” Richards said.

“Two years ago the mainsail shredded in a storm. Last year the canting keel hydraulic system keel failed, and now we’ve been hit from the heavens.”

Black Jack beat Wild Oats XI in last Tuesday’s Big Boat Challenge by just 43 seconds. It was the first time since 2009 that Wild Oats XI hadn’t claimed line honours in the traditional pre-Sydney To Hobart warm-up race.

The latest blow is the third in as many years for Wild Oats XI, which is aiming for its first line honours triumph since 2014.

Two years ago the boat shredded a mainsail when the wind down Australia’s east coast changed frighteningly quickly.

Then last year a hydraulics issue forced the boat to retire early on December 27 after enjoying an early lead in the race eventually claimed by Perpetual Loyal.

On December 14, the Wild Oats XI Facebook page posted a video of the supermaxi being hoisted out of the water.

“After a busy week of racing and training it’s time to come out of the water,” the post said. “We’ll be doing pre-Rolex Sydney Hobart checks and finalising our preparations to be race ready”

with Georgina Mitchell

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