Wotif you Just want to go Racing? Keep Spending.

Interesting article from Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, as the fleet of 100 yachts sets sail in the 64th Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race. Seems that with or without sponsorship, sailing at the highest level will be funded by wealthy individuals.

Graeme Wood, the Queensland millionaire, philanthropist and founder of Wotif.com, has two near-identical 52 footers racing against each other: Wot Yot and the newest addition to his fleet, Wot Now.

How much does it cost to finance two million-dollar yachts to Hobart and back? “It’s a number I could work out if I wanted to,” Wood said yesterday. “But I’d be too horrified by the cost. So I don’t.”

Wood, who set up the online accommodation service in 2000, sailed in his first Sydney to Hobart in 2005 in Wot Next. On the voyage back to Sydney he met Bill Sykes. “Bill was on the delivery crew. We started sailing together,” Wood said. “I got to know what he does for a day job and was hugely impressed.”

Sykes is the head teacher at Blacktown Tutorial Centre for young people with behavioural problems. Wood bought another boat, Wot Yot, and handed over Wot Next to Sykes for the 2006 race, crewed by talented young yachtsmen prepared to teach youth from the centre how to sail.

Wood has entered two yachts ever since. “This is all out of my own pocket. I just do it because I enjoy it,” he said.

But the economic crisis does not seem to have affected this year’s race. “I haven’t seen people dropping out because they are too hard up,” Wood said.

“The money that had to be spent was probably spent back when times were good.”

Stephen Ainsworth, of the Aristocrat poker machine family, agrees. He owns the newest boat in the race. Loki (pronounced “low key”) was only launched this month. Costing “several million dollars”, Loki was commissioned in October last year, when Ainsworth’s previous yacht was wrecked. That was before sharemarkets crumbled. Would he commission it now? “Probably not.”

Ainsworth says the meltdown will have a serious effect on blue water racing, sponsorship money being available.