Wild Oats XI sets Sydney-Hobart race record

Wild Oats XI arriving in Hobart. Picture: Carlo Borlenghi
Wild Oats XI arriving in Hobart. Picture: Carlo Borlenghi

After cheering his super maxi Wild Oats XI to a sixth line honours victory in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, owner Bob Oatley declared it was "definitely not" the end of his pursuit of glory in the event, and pledged to return with her next year set on beating the race record she set on Friday.

Watching her final early morning run up the Derwent River to the finish in one of the many spectator boats on Friday, "was a  great sight" said an elated Oatley. He then said her loss to Investec Loyal (now Ragamuffin Loyal) by three minutes eight seconds last year made the outcome on Friday where she finished at 7.22am (AEDT): "even sweeter and next year will be even sweeter again to get seven [wins] - six today, next year seven."

Oatley then reiterated the pain he felt for Wild Oats XI being pipped last year, saying: "it hurt like hell", but that made Friday's win more "special."

Oatley, whose 100-footer clocked an official finishing time of one day 18 hours 23 minutes and 12 seconds to better her 2005 record on her race debut by 16 minutes 58 seconds, then warned rivals of whom most are still at sea racing to Hobart: "We will try to beat [the record] again next year. "

Asked when he will stop entering the 628 nautical miles race that is being held for the 68th time, Oatley firmly said: "Never ... I hope." And he added that he will continue racing on: "the same boat. You can't do better than this boat. It's not possible in the world ... I wouldn't swap it with anybody."

When pressed on what makes the recently modified Wild Oats XI so special, Oatley said it is: "just the design, the initial design, and then the crew and the sails and the [rigging] and the modifications we make to it every year. We improve it every year. And this year is no exception."

"The new wing[lets] on the keel helped enormously I am sure, so did that new jib we finished the race with."Beaming in the early morning joy of victory, Oatley said: "I am feeling like a glass of champagne, or something ..." before laughing and cheekily adding a gratuitous plug for his own wine "... with a nice glass of Robert Oatley chardonnay to be quite candid. That really puts a smile on my face."

His and his crew's cheer followed a tense finish for Wild Oats XI as she chased what breeze there was on the Derwent River knowing that if she was to beat the existing 2005 race record of one day 18 hours 40 minutes and 10 seconds that she needed to finish before 7.40.10 am (AEDT) on Friday.

It was not until about four nautical miles to go when Wild Oats XI put up a giant Code Zero sail that the record looked probable. While Wild Oats XI looked set to finish well within record time late on Thursday, skipper Mark Richards knew that those chances hinged on the conditions overnight.

Westerlies of 10-15 knots late on Thursday night replaced the strong northerlies that had powered the boat to be hours ahead of its record pace.

But, as tactician Iain Murray predicted, Wild Oats XI picked up the forecast southwesterlies and increased its speed as it tacked up the Derwent.Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards said breaking the record was a huge achievement. ‘‘It was close, we only just made it but it’s a great result for the whole team,’’ Richards told media.

‘‘This boat is a great machine and we’re very proud of it. Getting the record is a big thing and it’s very satisfying.

‘‘It’s fantastic. It’s a great result for the whole team so we are absolutely stoked.’’

As Wild Oats XI finished, Ragamuffin Loyal was the next boat due to finish and was 50 nautical miles behind. Lahana, in third, was another 50nm back.

At 10am, the Syd Fischer-skippered maxi Ragamuffin Loyal was still in second place and three nautical miles east of Cape Raoul with 34 nautical miles to go, while Peter Millard's maxi Lahana was third with 86 nautical miles to go. In fourth and fifth places on line honours were Peter Harburg's Black Jack with 87 nautical miles to go and Stephen Ainsworth's Loki - the defending handicap champion yacht - that still had 97 nautical miles left to sail.



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