Wild Oats sows seeds of success

IAIN Murray laments the little time he gets to sail these days as the largely office-bound boss of the America's Cup, to be held in San Francisco next year.

''I've done very little sailing since the [2008] Olympics,'' says Murray, the 54-year-old Australian who is the America's Cup regatta director and chief executive of America's Cup Race Management.

''I get asked to sail on the America's Cup boats all the time but I am the independent guy. It's hard for me to put my foot in one camp. The days will be memorable when I get to sail in one of those 72-footers [catamarans] doing 40-50 knots.''

But, as the Australian yachting hero showed when he was let loose from his San Francisco bunker to return to Australia and be the tactician for Sydney to Hobart line honours-winning super maxi Wild Oats XI, his effect on a yacht's performance can still be huge.

That's saying something, considering Murray was a six-time 18-foot skiff world champion from 1977 to 1982, and again in the Etchells class in 1984. He also sailed in the 1987 America's Cup campaign as designer and skipper of Kevin Parry's Kookaburra III.

Without doubt it took a devoted crew and a lightning-fast modified yacht to take out line honours in this year's 628 nautical mile Sydney to Hobart.

But when it came to the Bob Oatley-owned Wild Oats XI coasting across the Derwent River finish line in a record time of one day 18 hours 23 minutes 12 seconds, the most crucial aspect in beating the boat's 2005 mark was how Murray and another old 18-foot skiff star, Steve Jarvin, read the breeze.

''Steve Jarvin, Iain Murray … great skiff sailors. They just picked that breeze beautifully there,'' said navigator Adrienne Cahalan after her 21st Hobart. ''Everything was calm on board. The sails were put up and everyone shuffled their weight around and we just coasted it across that line. A lot had to do with the natural ability of Iain and 'Mothy' and all the great sailors we had on board that just had confidence in our ability to get there.''

For Wild Oats XI, winning in record time avenged the three-minute loss to Ragamuffin Loyal last year - when it was named Investec Loyal and skippered by owner Anthony Bell, who did not race this year. The sixth win also placed the boat in a strong position to challenge for handicap honours.

Murray played down the influence of his wily scent for the slightest of race-defining wind patterns, as crucial as it was on Friday when Wild Oats XI may have been way ahead of Ragamuffin Loyal, but frantically chasing the clock to keep her once teetering race record hopes alive.

''We all try to do our job as well as we can,'' Murray said. ''You have got to be on the right pace. In this race there are a lot of potholes you can fall into. We did a good job of falling into them last year. So, this year went pretty well. We managed to get to all the places we wanted. We put a lot of effort into the weather forecasting. We were always well prepared for the next winds that were coming and getting to the places that we wanted to get to.''

Pressed on the value of his skiff experience, Murray said: ''I often say in the America's Cup world - [when] they say, 'we are racing catamarans and it's different' - we are racing in fast boats. When you are racing fast boats, the decisions come up really quickly. Like a game of chess, you have to think forward to understand what sails are going to be needed, what potential sails are going to be needed, what if we break a sail and have all the bits and pieces planned out. It's just continual motion through the race to get that planning process going. All of that went really well in this race.''

Murray's plan after a quick celebration with Oatley, skipper Mark Richards and the Wild Oats XI crew and supporters was to return to Sydney on Friday afternoon, and then to spend a couple of weeks before returning to the US.

It may appear like a quick mercenary raid by a yachting professional. Come to Australia. Win the nation's most prestigious ocean race. Then leave the winner's party in Hobart before even knowing the outcome of Wild Oats XI's place on handicap, for which the winner will receive the Tattersall's Cup.

It is anything but. Sailing in the Sydney to Hobart means as much to Murray as sailing for the 84-year-old Oatley does to him. ''There is a huge amount of loyalty and respect for the Oatley family. A lot of us have grown up together. It's like our coming home party every year,'' he says.

So how does this Wild Oats XI win compare to its previous five wins since 2005, when on debut it took out line and handicap honours and set the record she beat on Friday of one day 20 hours, 40 minutes, 10 seconds?

''The highlight for this boat was the first year that we won because the boat was brand new,'' Murray says. ''We were basically a bunch of skiff sailors down in the Pittwater area - no huge big 'pros' - and we pushed the boat.

''We really pushed the boat the first year and we wouldn't do that today because we were sort of a little unaware of the dangers that we were in, really. That first year, we did 39 knots in the boat. We only did 28 in this trip, or 29. It was raw in 2005, what we were doing. Now it's a lot more polished. If we get lucky and win the handicap as well, this will be right up with all the good things in sailing in my life - and I have done some wonderful things.''

Twitter: @rupertguinness

This story Wild Oats sows seeds of success first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.