Willy and his wet Christmas

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A Queenstowner is putting Christmas celebrations on hold as he flies out tomorrow to enter Australia’s most famous yacht race.

Willy Roberts, 45, is sharing helming and sail-trimming duties on one of a record eight maxis lining up for the 100-boat Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on Boxing Day.

Hong Kong-raised Roberts has sailed yachts all his life but says 98-foot Lahana, built in New Zealand six years ago, is the biggest boat he’s sailed on.

“Not many people get the opportunity to race on something this big,” he says.

The race will be Roberts’s fourth sail on Lahana, which was overhauled by its new owners this year.

He was aboard when it took line honours in Australia’s Bird Island Race in September.

He’ll be the only Kiwi among 27 crew who’ll include former Wallaby rugby prop Rod Moore, renowned helmsman/tactician Bob Fraser and ex-round-the-world sailor, navigator David Adams.

Ten crew are needed just to pull the sails up and down, Roberts says.

He predicts Lahana will be a line honours contender in the 628 nautical mile race, but won’t be as fast as Sydney-based Kiwi Neville Crichton’s maxi, Alfa Romeo.

Roberts’ only other Sydney-Hobart race was on a 60 footer eight years ago, when a big twister near the start line wiped out the boat in front.

Roberts has already had some sailing successes this year.

He’s been navigator for Hong Kong-based Kiwi Neil Pryde, whose 52ft Hifi convincingly won both the Raja Muda Malaysian series and Phuket King’s Cup Regatta in Thailand.

Roberts is also an experienced endurance athlete – in April this year he finished third in the oppressively cold North Pole Marathon.