EXCITED: Kurt FearnleyWHEELCHAIR racing supremo Kurt Fearnley yesterday had his first experience of racing on a 100-footer maxi yacht in preparation for this year’s Sydney to Hobart.
He promptly dubbed the experience ‘‘wild’’, and that was without even passing the heads of Sydney Harbour.
But the triple Paralympic gold medallist, whose other feats include climbing the 1504 steps of Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower and conquering the Kokoda Track, realises that yesterday’s Big Boat Challenge was only the entree for what is to be served up en route to Hobart.
Maxis dominated line honours yesterday amid gusts of up to 23knots. First was Mark Richards’s Wild Oats XI, two minutes and 51 seconds ahead of Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal, on which Fearnley is a crewmate, and almost eight minutes clear of Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing.
For Fearnley, the adrenalin rush began from the start off Shark Island when Investec Loyal and Wild Oats XI were side by side.
‘‘It was close enough for me to board you guys at the start line,’’ Fearnley said, looking at Richards.
‘‘I was thinking about it. It was just wild, mate.’’
That was about as close as the two yachts got.
By the finish of the 14-nautical mile race off Farm Cove, it had become just another one-boat race.
Richards made mention of the ‘‘little tussle off the line’’ that Wild Oats XI had at the start with Investec Loyal and conceded the race ‘‘was a real challenge getting the big boats around the race track’’.
But it was soon clear that there was no stopping the defending Sydney to Hobart champions, especially after Investec Loyal had problems with its furling system.
Not that it marred Fearnley’s day out.
‘‘That wasn’t my mistake, so I was pretty happy with that,’’ he said. ‘‘It was good just to get there and be on the boat while it was angry; while it’s racing. You get in there, do your job.
‘‘I did everything that was asked of me and can’t wait until Boxing Day now.
‘‘I’ve been part of some pretty good teams with my trips – three Paralympics and even the team that crossed Kokoda, we were a real tight unit. Now I have hung around with the boys for the past few months and it’s good to be a part of.
‘‘The intensity on the boat – I love that. That’s why I chose to become an athlete.
‘‘When you are in front of 100,000 people in a stadium you have to make the right choice, be really on the game and contest right to the finish. ‘‘I can’t wait to be out there on Boxing Day and out there with another thousand yachts on that harbour.
‘‘It will be a little different to wheelchair racing. But then I have that instinct of competition, and you take it out on to the stage … that doesn’t change no matter what sport you do.’’