The greatest interest in this year’s Sydney to Hobart yacht race will be seeing what media stunts organisers have up their sleeve to attract attention to the boring procession led by five-time winner Wild Oats XI.
It will be hard to top 2008 when the sadly flagging race jumped the shark, literally. One of the best bullshit stories ever was lapped up by reporters fed by organisers desperate for a day-two yarn, pleasing sponsors needing value from the event.
Wild Oats was sluggish after picking up debris on it’s keel. Maybe this year it would be tight, exciting even if you added perennial myths about “treacherous” Bass Strait, Tasmania’s “fluky” east coast and the “vagaries” of the Derwent River.
But just as scribes dared to posit an interesting finish Wild Oats broke its shackle gapping her rivals. Bummer.
But wait. Could it be true? There was a better story, even though Wild Oats was now flying home. Word was that a shark had also got caught for a time around the keel. Incredible. Turns out the shark helped dislodge the debris and skipper Mark Richards did a bit of manoeuvre to dislodge the helpful man-eater that someone saw at some point and was said to have said was two-metres long. Incredible. Great yarn. Cricket-trumping yarn.
Richards didn’t see the shark, but from the yacht he gives just enough information relayed to him by unnamed crew about the unfortunate beast. The story is a hit. Wild Oats streets the field, again, and when Richards gets in nobody wants anything to get in the way of yesterday’s good story, like talking to whoever it was who saw the shark. That guy, whatshisname, couldn’t be found. Plus now there is a result to report - a record fourth consecutive win.
The next year, 2009, Neville Crichton sails his unbeaten juggernaut Alfa Romeo from the northern hemisphere on a oncer-whim which shows up Wild Oats as a provincial champ. The story about the supremacy of the sailing titan writes itself. No room for contrivances.
One of the biggest problems for the singular race is it that it rates so far behind the northern hemisphere’s premier series of ocean racing that it can’t attract more serious competition. A move to perhaps add races in Australia and New Zealand for an attractive series is a pipe dream.
In 2010 the normal boring transmission continues and Wild Oats wins her fifth title. Even the day-two media stunt is lame. How could they beat the shark?
Richards and his crew fail to make a proper radio safety report entering Bass Strait due to a blown fuse and instead use a satellite phone. No biggee? Yeah, no bigee. But organisers beat up a protest drama lapped up by reporters desperate for a day-two story, pleasing sponsors needing value from the event. The disqualification tension drives a charade until Wild Oats is cleared as expected - the organiser’s complaint dismissed. Richards promises to return and win the race in 2011 - gee great. Can’t wait.
Why don’t they have a handicap race for line honours. Not many punters care much about the current handicap winner. They could keep the spectacle of the traditional start imposing a time and distance handicap outside the Sydney heads.