7th line honours victory for Wild Oats

After a light wind race, Bob Oatley's supermaxi is first home in the Rolex Sydney Hobart

Saturday December 28th 2013, Author: Di Pearson/Jim Gale/James Boyd, Location: Australia

Mark Richards skippered Bob Oatley’s 100ft maxi Wild Oats XI to her seventh line honours victory in the Rolex Sydney Hobart, crossing the finish line at 19.07.27 AEDT. This is the Reichel Pugh design's seven line honours victory since her first in 2005, and this record equals that of the yacht Morna/Kurrewa IV which took line honours in 1946-48 then in 1954, ’56, ’57 and ’60.

As a 98-footer, Wild Oats XI scored the treble of line honours, overall win and race record in 2005, the year winemaker Bob Oatley launched her. She went on to take line honours again in 2006, 2007, 2008 and in 2010 and 2012 as a 100-footer, when she scored the treble again, breaking her own race record in the time of 1 day 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.

This time, the super maxi finished in 2 days 6 hours 7 minutes and 27 seconds, Richards and his mostly long term crew (in fact seven from the 2005 crew are aboard) outside of their record by more than 11 hours. They faced the toughest opposition of their Rolex Sydney Hobart career, having to take on seven boats capable of beating them, in particular, Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal, plus Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin 100, which Bell sailed as Investec Loyal to line honours victory ahead of Wild Oats XI in 2011.

At 1715 local time, Wild Oats XI was reefed down and carrying a small headsail in Storm Bay, averaging speeds of 12-17 knots as Perpetual Loyal was blistering along down the Tasmanian coast at 28.2 knots, but her deficit was too much, although Loyal did close the gap by over 20 miles down to 33 miles at the finish.

At 1735, Wild Oats XI had just 22 miles to reach the finish line off Castray Esplanade in Hobart, with her boat speed at 19.3 knots, beating into a fresh northeasterly breeze. Richards kept the yacht going, the wind gods smiling down again, delivering enough wind in the River Derwent for him to keep the boat speed up around 9.2-11.5 knots.

Dockside, while waiting for his boat to tie up, owner Bob Oatley said: “Hallelujah Ricko, Hallelujah.” Oatley said: “It was a very difficult race. We lost the lead on the first night out and then picked it up again and improved on it. The boat has a great future and more wins…”

“Winning a seventh race is a big deal,” commented skipper Mark Richards. “Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI is the most famous yacht in Australian history, I would say. To set a record like that in the event’s history is amazing and something we’re very, very proud of. The old girl still has the legs, that’s for sure, and the team did an amazing job. If it weren’t for Bob none of us would be here.

“This is one of the best wins you could ever have. There’s a lot of new competition and a lot of anxiety: no one had any idea how we were going to go against each other. To sail away from these guys throughout the race was pretty amazing.”

Speaking to the media just minutes after tying up at Hobart’s Kings Pier it was clear that Richards was absolutely elated, and deeply relieved. This race had threatened the eight-year-old yacht with so many unknown challenges from brand new, state-of-the-art boats, and the old girl had triumphed.

To the side of the media scrum, tactician Iain Murray looked on quietly. If Richards was elated, Murray bore an air of deep satisfaction and contentment. The man they call the Big Fella has been with the Wild Oats XI project since it was a gleam in Bob Oatley’s eye. Throughout he has bought a sense of calm and a depth of sailing knowledge to the team that has been crucial to its success. Over the years Wild Oats XI has become more than just a boat to him.

“Wild Oats is a bit of an old girl now and a bit of a favourite,” he said. “For her to stand up and deliver is special really. This boat and the crew have been around a long time and to keep improving the boat is a nice thing to do.

“I’m sure if you started with a clean sheet of paper now you wouldn’t build this boat but she’s a good all-round boat. She isn’t great down-wind or a record breaker or a reaching boat; she is a good all-round boat and coupled with that she has a great, consistent crew that generally gets the most out of her.”

Murray concedes that there was a lot of pressure on everyone in the days before the start “with all the competition and all the fear of the unknown”.

“Because we’d never sailed against these boats and we had our own difficulties with the mast. The lead-up didn’t go as we wanted it to and we didn’t get the hours on the boat. It’s quite a relief to actually come out and sail, and sail the way the boat sailed,” Murray said.

Over the years Wild Oats XI has been constantly modified. There have been foils added and subtracted, a taller mast; this year the big innovation was a new DSS hydrofoil jutting out leeward below the waterline to give extra lift in strong running and reaching conditions. There are so many appendages sticking through the hull they call her the Swiss army knife.

Murray says that when deployed in the final hours of the race when the boat was reaching at speeds around 30 knots, the wing added 5% to her performance.

“It was worth bringing along,” he says dryly. “This boat is very optimised now. The foils and the rig are substantially different. She is sailing to windward better than she ever has and with the new board (foil), even when we were going across the wind, the bow was up and trimmed and sailing fast.”

In those last hours Wild Oats XI seemed to simply blow off Perpetual Loyal. “We managed to get on the right side of the wind a couple of times but generally you could see the boat was sailing away (Perpetual Loyal] all the time in a variety of conditions. Everyone is happy with that," Murray continued. “Boats like Perpetual Loyal have come with a big reputation: essentially a new boat with considerable modifications to bring her right up to speed. And Beau Geste, fresh off the drawing board, threatened to deliver a lot.

“But we are here. I think everyone in the crew was on their game this year. In the nine races this boat has done this was by far the best.” Murray surmised.


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