Mark Richards, skipper of Sydney to Hobart yacht race winner Wild Oats XI, has scoffed at the suggestion that owner Bob Oatley will be distracted for this year’s race now that he has his eye on the next America’s Cup.
Richards says Oatley and his son Sandy are as passionate as ever about the 628 nautical mile blue-water classic.
Asked if their cup plans might diminish their focus on the Sydney to Hobart race, Richards said: “God no. That’s the first thing we mentioned [when they decided to lodge the cup challenge]. Our focus is the Hobart race.
“There’s a lot of competition this year. Wild Oats is close to 10-years-old. But we have a lot of modifications to the boat this year. We love doing the race. Bob loves winning. So he has to put the effort into the boat [with] research and development, new sails, getting everything up to speed.
''There will be some new boats that are going to be very hard to beat. If we do a good job we can get the result. We have to stay focused.”
Richards even believes Wild Oats XI, which first competed in the Sydney to Hobart in 2005 by winning line and handicap honours in a race record, could still smash her present race record of 1 day, 18hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds from last year when she again also won line and handicap honours.
“Absolutely. I’ve said every year, we just don’t get the conditions,” Richards said. “That record will be smashed one day ... You have to have the right conditions, that’s all.”It is not known what role Richards may have in the Oatleys’ America’s Cup challenge that was lodged by the Hamilton Island Yacht Club last Thursday to the Golden Gate Yacht Club.
Sandy Oatley said “only a number of people” will work on the campaign for “the next couple of months” while arrangements are made between the HIYC as ‘‘challenger of record’’ and GGYC for talks to negotiate on law and protocol for the 35th cup that will probably be in three years’ time.
Oatley said Richards and his Wild Oats XI team had been told by him and his father that this year’s Sydney to Hobart race was still “our prime function” and the “forefront” of the Oatley’s sailing operations.
Richards, who has sailed in two America’s Cup campaigns – in 1992 on Spirit of Australia and in 1995 on oneAustralia – is also unsure about his availability for another cup due to commitments with his Palm Beach Motor Yachts business.