Wild Oats takes first blood in trial run

Wild Oats XI will go into this year's Sydney to Hobart yacht race in sublime form after knocking off new rivals Perpetual Loyal in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge around Sydney Harbour on Tuesday.

The handicap winner was Shogun V, which isn't contesting the Sydney to Hobart this year, while another high-profile contender, Wild Thing, broke the start and finished fourth.

Across the 14-nautical mile course, Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards was in control of his crew, while new challengers Perpetual Loyal, who have undergone extensive modifications to their boat, were lucky to finish the race when one of their light weather assymetrical sails split in two.

It hampered their chances to get a psychological edge over Wild Oats XI before the big race begins on Boxing Day, but sailing legend Iain Murray said it was more of a practice run than anything.

"It's the first time these boats have sailed together and they seem to be reasonably close," Murray said. "I don't think you can read too much into it today; if it's a light race it will favour Wild Oats and if it's a windy day it will definitely favour Perpetual Loyal. They're clearly different boats but it's interesting to see the strengths of the two boats. It's a very testing day on the Harbour today because the wind's up.

Murray was recently named chief executive of Hamilton Island Yacht Club's Team Australia, which will challenge for the America's Cup.

Murray said Australia has enough gifted sailors to create a winning team, but conceded it will take time and management to scale the heights of 1983 when Australia II won the Auld Mug.

"The talent pool is enormous, and you can see that in our Olympic results in all the classes," the 55-year old said. "The young guys were all doing so well [at the Olympics] and you only had to look at the America's Cup this year. There was Aussies floating around everywhere; sailing, managing and designing boats."

Skipper of Oracle Team USA, Australia's James Spithill is a sailor Murray would love in his crew given his recent success at the America's Cup. However, Murray said even if he doesn't snare the services of the Aussie, he won't mind the underdog status when the crew gets up and running.

"I think that's probably a slim chance [to get Spithill]," Murray said. "He's at a very senior level and we are more of a junior team at the moment and we're looking to build for the future. We're setting ourselves high goals but like many Australians we like to be the sleeper. It's early days and we want to build a strong team, but we have limited resources in this country financially. It's great to be back into it though and we need to work with that enthusiasm to get the Cup back."

Meanwhile Rob Brown, who also was part of the successful Australia II crew in 1983, said he was meeting up with Spithill this week.

"James has Australian citizenship and he has a house here so I'm confident we might still be able to convince him to jump on board because he'd be a great asset to the crew," Brown said.

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