Wild Oats XI claims victory for ninth time

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Supermaxi Wild Oats XI won its ninth line honours in the Sydney to Hobart ocean race on Friday (Dec 28) to become the most successful yacht in the history of the gruelling competition. Serial winner pips Black Jack and Comanche in one of the closest races in contest’s 74-year history.

The Oatley Family’s Wild Oats XI has claimed a record ninth Sydney to Hobart crown, holding off three chasing supermaxis in one of the closest and most anticipated finishes in the history of Australian sailing’s showpiece event.

“We are just so happy with the result,” said the victorious skipper, Mark Richards, moments after roping up at Constitution Dock in Tasmania.

“It was an amazing, amazing contest all the way to the end. I take my hat off to all four of the maxi boats. I mean, all teams did an awesome job. We all came into the Derwent together – what more could you ask for?”

The line honours champion of the 74th edition finished the race outside of record time, crossing just after eight o’clock in the morning in a time of one day, 19 hours, seven minutes and 21 seconds but that has done nothing to dent her legendary status, according to the man on the helm for victory No 9.

“The boat – Wild Oats XI, what an Australian icon. Fourteen years old and to do what she did today I think is just an amazing achievement,” Richards said. “The guys did a wonderful job – I couldn’t be prouder of the team.”

Earlier a tactical masterstroke to take a more easterly route helped Wild Oats XI roll then race leader, Comanche, in the early hours of the second morning and it was a lead Richards’ crew would never relinquish.

It was a sweet moment for the 100-footer, which suffered retirements in 2015 and 2016 and was last year stripped of the line honours win after receiving a one-hour penalty.

“Whether people like it or not that was Wild Oats’ 10th time over the line first, regardless of what anyone says,” said Richards after his another triumph in the 628-nautical mile race, his first since 2014. “It is a day of redemption, that is for sure.”

The line honours win marks the first Sydney to Hobart triumph for the crew after the death three years ago of the Wild Oats patron Bob Oatley. In a special moment Bob’s grandson Daniel Oatley was on deck alongside America’s Cup winner Sam Newton and a veteran of more than 30 Hobart campaigns, Steve Jarvin, as the supermaxi secured victory.

“Words fail me, to do this today,” said the boat’s owner, Sandy Oatley. “They have had great competition out there and I thank the other boats out there who rose to the occasion.”

“This is by far the most spectacular Sydney to Hobart in 74 years, you can’t ask for much better than that,” said Richards, who justified the expenditure on a new sail set.

The New South Wales yacht powered through the final passages of the race on the Derwent with an average speed of 14 knots (26km/h) to hold off this year’s Sydney Gold Coast conqueror Black Jack and the two-time Sydney Hobart winner Comanche.

The second to reach Tasmanian soil was Black Jack, the first yacht to clear the heads in Sydney Harbour. Peter Harburg’s entrant finished less than half an hour behind Wild Oats XI.

Jim Cooney’s 100-footer Comanche had led the race for large sections before finally surrendering that cushion four hours from the finish and slid further back on the Derwent to finish third, a tantalising 63 seconds behind Black Jack.

The final 100-footer, Christian Beck’s InfoTrack, closed out the quartet – ensuring all four supermaxis finished within 45 minutes of each other, capping off the most spectacular battle for line honours among the giants of the fleet in seven decades.

In what is shaping up to be an unforgettable year for the Oatley family, their second yacht, Wild Oats X, is also in contention for the handicap crown. Racing under the banner of Ocean Respect Racing the 66-footer’s all-female crew was sitting sixth on line and third on corrected time when her sister ship claimed victory.

The frontrunner in the battle for the Tattersalls Cup is last year’s champion, Ichi Ban. The Matt Allen-skippered entrant was in 11th position on the line as Wild Oats XI crossed, leaving Allen’s crew on track to become the first yacht since Freya in 1965 to claim consecutive handicap wins.