Skipper confident of sixth Sydney to Hobart win
Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards is confident he has just about every base covered as he strives for a sixth Sydney to Hobart line honours victory and revenge against a boat described as a beast by it's new skipper.
Wild Oats XI has notched five firsts and two seconds in her seven-year history in the 628 nautical mile race, and is two victories off equalling the record of seven tallied by Morna/Kurrewa IV.
Bob Oatley's boat trailed Investec Loyal - as it was known in 2011 - by just three minutes in a titanic race to get to Hobart first.
Modifications to the boat have Richards convinced her weakness in light air has been eliminated and left her with no glaring deficiency in other conditions.
"We're confident we've got just about everything covered," Richards told AAP.
Unlike Wild Oats XI, Ragamuffin Loyal hasn't undergone major changes since last year's race.
"We've just made it work a little bit better," said Syd Fischer, who has chartered last year's line honours winner and added his traditional Ragamuffin tag to the boat.
"The boys have worked very hard, they have been right through the boat and found lots of little things that need fixing."
Fischer is still coming to terms with the awesome power of his super maxi after utilising a boat just over half her length for his recent Hobart campaigns.
"It's a beast and as I said to the blokes, I'm bloody bewildered how were going to sail this thing, but we'll be right," Fischer said.
The race is expected to start under southeasterly breezes before producing northerly tailwinds early on Thursday, with slowing westerlies forecast later that day.
"The first night is critical, getting through that and then doing a good job in the nor-easters and the transition there," said Richards, who was still hopeful of beating his boat's 2005 race record.
While Wild Oats XI remains favourite for line honours ahead of Ragamuffin Loyal, the fleet of 77 includes two other super maxis, Lahana, which finished third across the line in the past two years and Wild Thing, the 2003 line honours winner.
Grant Wharington's revamped Wild Thing is perhaps the X-Factor boat in the race.
It hasn't raced since the overhaul which resulted in her being extended to the permitted maximum length of 100 foot and she also boasts her best ever set of sails.
Lahana has probably a better chance of of overall honours especially since the bigger boats have been widely tipped to prosper in the forecast conditions.
The four super maxis, plus three boats over 60 foot, Ichi Ban, Black Jack and last year's overall winner, Loki, are all potentially strong contenders.
"It's going to be a fascinating duel especially when we get off the south east coast of Tasmania, that's probably where the race is going to be won and lost," Ichi Ban skipper Matt Allen said.
The fleet contains nine former handicap champions, with Loki bidding to become the first boat in almost 50 years since Freya (1963-64-65) to go back-to-back for overall honours.
The fleet includes five entrants from overseas, two from New Zealand and one each from Lithuania, their first ever boat in the race, Japan and France.