Line honours and new race record for Wild Oats XI

As Chris Bull's Jazz is the current leader on handicap

Thursday December 27th 2012, Author: Jim Gale, Location: Australia

Bob Oatley’s five-time Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honours winner, Wild Oats XI, beat her 2005 record time this morning, in a gentle glide to the finish that kept everyone on the edge of their seats. She finished in a time of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds, taking 16 minutes and 58 seconds off her old record.

The last moments of the race were prolonged by the Wild Oats crew not knowing if the record was within their grasp. At 0500 today, the record seemed out of reach, but at about 7 am, her hopes were revived, and as the minutes ticked by, chances improved. Initially, they were a tantalising 40 minutes outside the record time and were expected to finish at about 08.30, however, as the clock ticked, the maxi picked up speed to around 15 knots and her finish time was upgraded to 8.00 am, then 7.50 am, 7.36 am, 7.23am and 7.13 am with five nautical miles to go.

It remains to be seen whether Wild Oats XI can go all the way and take the treble (victory on corrected time as well as line honours and the race record).

Dockside, skipper Mark Richards said: “We’re all over the moon. How many places have this level of race with a fleet this size? Last year we were beaten by Investec Loyal [now Ragamuffin-Loyal] by three minutes, which was very disappointing. This year we beat them by much more.”

Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin-Loyal that was about 45 miles behind the line honours winner at the time she finished.

Of the new record, Richards said: “We just kept chipping away. You expect it to be light in the Derwent and it did get lighter towards the end. This is a very testing event and the Derwent is very, very, testing. It’s always a tough race.

Among afterguard was navigator Adrienne Cahalan (who was aboard for the 2005 record) and co-navigator Tom Addis, navigator on Puma in the last Volvo Ocean Race, as well as tactician Iain Murray, who has taken time out of his role as Regatta Director and CEO of the America's Cup Race Management (ACRM) organisation to return to sail the yacht again.

Richards added that although the race was a relatively easy one “we had some very hard and fast running conditions; we blew out a spinnaker and had some gear failure, so it wasn’t all smooth sailing”.

Covered live on Channel 7, the tension could be seen in the faces and movements of the Wild Oats XI crew, which included Murray, Cahalan and Addis and Steve Jarvin, who was thrilled to claim the record on his milestone 25th race, as they sailed the final miles to Castray Esplanade. Through dint of luck, or just choosing the right boats, Jarvin also holds the record for the most line honours victories in the race’s history, this being his tenth.

Following his boat down the Derwent River aboard a spectator boat, owner Bob Oatley looked close to tears as his ever-evolving yacht made it across the line in record time. Joining Oatley in the celebrations were his wife Val, son Sandy and their families. “We've never given up; we'll try to do it again next year. New wings on the keel helped enormously I'm sure, so did the new jib. The design, the crew, the sails and the modifications are what makes the boat fast,” Oatley said dockside. “I’m over the moon,” he added, keen to reach Richards, or Ricko, as he’s known in yachting circles, and the crew.

Wild Oats XI will go into the history books as only the second boat in the history of the race to break its own race record. Only Morna, later renamed Kurrewa IV, exceeds that record, have cracked its race record twice.

Chris Bull’s Cookson 50 Jazz poses the most significant threat to Wild Oats XI repeating her 2005 triumph: the treble of race record, line honours and first overall, in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

With line honours settled all the attention now focuses on Australian yachting’s ultimate prize, the Tattersall’s Cup, awarded to the overall winner on IRC. As Wild Oats XI slipped into the Hobart marina she at last gave every other boat the precise time each had left to rob her of the treble.

For most of the fleet the news was dire. There is simply no way they can get to Hobart in time.

Just a few still had some hope: Jazz, Calm, Quest, Loki, Lahana and Black Jack. All would need the wind to freshen as the morning wore on. All would need to arrive at Tasman Island with plenty of wind and enough time to get across Storm Bay and into the Derwent River before it shut down.

As Wild Oats XI finished Jazz was leading on handicap, and was the boat most likely. She was 168 miles from the finish, lying well offshore, south west of St Helens, and closing in on the Tasmanian coast at 8 knots. She had 16 hours to finish. She has to be across the line by 2:04 am tomorrow, more than two hours later than her then eta was predicted, with the wind forecast to freshen during the day. The snag being that the freshening wind would be on the nose the whole way. She would have to sail a lot more than 168 miles as she tacked home.

The race there for the taking, but how co-operative would the gods prove to be? By mid-morning the wind gods appear to have been caught up along with everyone else in the euphoria of Wild Oats XI dramatic finish. The chances seem to have evaporated for all but Jazz, and she has a lot of work to do. If anything, the breeze seems to have weakened. Her estimate time of arrival has been pushed further out with each passing hour, so that now she has very little time up her sleeve. Worse, she may well arrive at Tasman Island too late for the last of the wind.


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