As he sets sail for his 17th Sydney to Hobart, Ty Oxley's never had a preparation quite like this one.
Lingering bushfire smoke in Sydney has wreaked havoc ahead of the annual Boxing Day race. Tuesday's Big Boat Challenge - a sprint race around Sydney Harbour for Sydney to Hobart contenders - was cancelled for the first time in its 25-year history due to safety concerns.
Wollongong's Oxley, who is boat captain for the InfoTrack super-maxi, said he hoped conditions would improve before the race began on December 26.
"Visibility was probably only about 50 metres," he said. "When you're trying to put a 500-foot boat around a tight harbour, and you're potentially doing 25 knots, I can see why the yacht club cancelled the Big Boat race. It's a bit of a shame, it would have been nice to get a hit out against everyone before Boxing Day.
"But it's [smoke] not something that we're planning for. Like on Tuesday, there was a lot of smoke but not much wind. Hopefully the smoke will clear for Boxing Day. But these days, it's not so much about the weather conditions. These boats are so much faster now, especially the big boats in light air as well as heavy air. I think the race record now is one day, nine hours. You can kind of get through with the same weather pattern. Whereas years ago on the smaller boats or slower boats, you would not make it through so quick and you would normally have the southerly front come through at some point in the race."
However, Oxley said InfoTrack was in good shape with just 13 days remaining until race day. Oxley's crew secured victory in the 2IC Trophy Series last Sunday, pipping rival Black Jack.
"We've been doing a lot of training and the boat's going really well at the moment. You always get a few little issues that you've got to sort out, but it's pretty much sorted now," Oxley said.
"We've got a really good squad. Potentially there's some [crew members] who did Hobart last year. But there's also some new members. We've got a couple of Spanish guys, a couple of Kiwi guys, so it's a bit of a mixture in our crew. But they're all solid guys. They're ex-Volvo around-the-world racers so they've got plenty of experience."
Oxley said it was difficult to predict who would be a challenger for this year's Sydney to Hobart crown.
"It's a little bit untested at the moment because Wild Oats [XI] and Black Jack have done some extensive modifications to their boats," he said.
"We haven't really raced against them, other than last weekend racing Black Jack. They're a bit unknown at the moment on whether the changes they've made are going to be better for them or not.
"Comanche is always a strong contender, they are a very fast boat. But it's anyone's game, any one of the 500-footers could win."
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