An extraordinary final hour saw Wild Oats XI overtake and beat race leader Comanche by 26 minutes for a record-breaking line honours win in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
After trailing Comanche for just over one day and eight hours of racing, Wild Oats XI pulled level with her rival in the Derwent River 11 nautical miles from the finish line when Comanche suddenly ground to a halt as the wind dropped.
Both crews had teams standing 30 metres in the air on their top spreaders looking for wind, and it took eight minutes for Wild Oats XI to crawl to a lead with five nautical miles to go.
Thousands of spectators lined the Derwent for the extraordinary finish, and despite the late stalling, Wild Oats XI still smashed Perpetual Loyal’s 2016 record of one day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds by nearly five hours.
The crew gave three cheers as it crossed the line in honour of Wild Oats XI’s owner, winemaker Bob Oatley, who died in January 2016.
“They had the superior boat, the most powerful boat by a country mile,” Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards declared.
“We were in touch coming around Tasman Island and all of a sudden we saw a dream come true: a Derwent River with no wind in it. Nothing comes for free, all that power doesn’t come for free and in the Derwent the one thing you don’t need is power.”
As much as a week ago, Comanche’s navigator Stan Honey had worried the race could be decided on the Derwent. He said Comanche had to be so far ahead of the lighter, leaner Wild Oats XI and Black Jack when she rounded the Iron Pot at the entrance to the Derwent that they could not reel her back in when the wind went soft on the river.
“We pushed the boat to the limit,” Wild Oats’ tactician Iain Murray admitted. “We knew we would lose at the beginning of the race; we thought we could catch up when it got really windy, and we did, and we knew the Derwent was going to be tricky.”
Comanche skipper Jim Cooney suspected soft weather in the Derwent could be troublesome.
“It is a very wide boat and a very big wetted surface area. It is difficult to keep it moving in very light air,” he said. “We had a different forecast to that and didn’t think it would be a problem.”
But the race still has a final twist to play out, and the record – and win – could still go to Comanche.
As the boats were leaving Sydney Harbour and turning out to sea, Comanche came within seconds of colliding with Wild Oats XI’s stern, triggering screaming between the crews and Comanche flying a red protest flag. Comanche, steered by the notoriously aggressive America’s Cup-winning helmsman Jimmy Spithill, was on a starboard tack giving it right of way.
Here’s the moment the two multi-million dollar yachts almost bumped:
PROTEST: Here's another look at that incident between @wildoatsxi and LDV Comanche.
— 7mate (@7mate) December 26, 2017
Now Richards and his team will wait to see if a protest lodged by Comanche will be upheld.
A panel will make the decision today, but Richards said after the race he wasn’t concerned victory would be snatched away from his team, saying had video footage which he believes proves Wild Oat’s innocence.
“If we though it was a blatant infringement we would have done our (penalty) turn,” he said.
“I think we were totally innocent at the incident at the start. It is not the America’s Cup, it is the Hobart. The rules are different.
“I’m not concerned about it at all.’’
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