Costs force many to abandon yacht race

SAILING 

As Wild Oats seeks an unprecedented seventh straight Sydney to Hobart victory on Boxing Day, smaller crews are struggling just to get their boats on the water.

Wild Oats owner Bob Oatley spends close to $250,000 a month maintaining his 168-footer but South Coast yachtsman Peter Tucker says rising costs are making it impossible for crews like his IceFire team to contest Australia's premier yacht race.

"The costs of doing the Hobart, insurance-wise, are getting out of control," Tucker said.

"We've struggled the last two years and it's getting much tougher.

"The excess on your insurance for Hobart alone is over $20,000 and a lot of insurance companies are shying away from insuring older boats.

"There's a lot of people hurting; I know a lot of people who've dropped out of sailing and sold their boats. It adds a huge financial burden to what used to be a lot of fun.

"I think the adventure's being lost a little bit."

As the likes of 100-plus footers Ragamuffin, Perpetual Loyal and Wild Thing seek to deny Wild Oats a seventh straight title, Tucker says the real action will be going on behind them.

"It's got to the point where if you watch the TV there's only six boats in the whole thing," Tucker said.

"No-one is really paying attention to the rest of the fleet and that's where the real sailing gets done.

"The front runners go so quick that they're able to sail in a fairly constant weather pattern, whereas the back runners don't get that privilege, they've got to sail through a couple of different weather conditions. All the big boats get noticed but all the punters at the back who are doing it harder - they're the heroes of the whole thing."

Tucker and his IceFire crew completed the last three Sydney to Hobarts but due to rising costs shifted their focus to the Pittwater to Coffs Harbour race on January 2.

"It's the only race on the east coast that we haven't done, so we're pretty keen to nail it," Tucker said.

"There's always a chance [to win] but it will depend on what conditions we get on the day.

"Normally in summer you've got the north-easterly as the predominant breeze but we're hoping for a southerly so we can use the boat to its potential.

"The boat is a downwind sailing boat so it's made to go quick off the breeze.

"If we get the right conditions we could be finished in 24 hours but, if we don't, we could take two days.

"It's a race where if you get the right weather you'll be firing along but if you don't it becomes a tactical race and about who can handle that type of pressure."

He may have bypassed the event this year but Tucker said he was still far from finished with what is Australia's greatest race, and is eyeing off a shot at next year's 70th anniversary race.

"The boat's getting tired but if we own it in 12 months time we'll be going to Hobart in it," he said.

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