Mark Richards has steered the Oatley family’s Wild Oats XI to her ninth Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours victory after a protracted battle with Jim Cooney’s LDV Comanche on Tasmania’s River Derwent this evening, reclaiming the race record Anthony Bell’s Perpetual LOYAL took from her last year.
Wild Oats XI smashed last year’s record of one day 13hrs 31mins 20secs by after crossing the Castray Esplanade finish line at 21:48:50 this evening, in the new time of one day 8hrs 48mins 50secs, taking 4hrs 42mins 30secs of Perpetual LOYAL’s time.
This is a record ninth line honours for Wild Oats and a third record – nobody in the history of the race has achieved this honour before.
But will she hold on to line honours? LDV Comanche is flying the protest flag she raised after an incident after the start and then advised in the first sked she would be protesting Wild Oats XI. LDV Comanche must file her protest within six hours of finishing.
But in the meantime, Richards and his 20 crew members were celebrating their victory to huge cheers at the dock in Hobart tonight, spraying Champagne Mumm over each other as the huge crowd waited for LDV Comanche to also finish.
The J.H. Illingworth Trophy looked set to be in the hands of Jim Cooney, who recently purchased the 2015 boat dubbed the ‘aircraft carrier’ due to her girth. Boat and crew revelled in the strong north-easterly wind, but in the end, Wild Oats XI held her ground and showed her superiority in the extremely light breeze both boats found on rounding Tasman Island that at times stopped both yachts in their tracks.
“The first win was sweet, but this was sweeter,” an ecstatic Sandy Oatley declared on the Hobart dockside as the Oatley family’s Wild Oats XI eased into King’s Pier. “We expected LDV Comanche to take off, and it did, but we hung onto their coat tails, and we were very surprised,” he said.
At the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia a week ago LDV Comanche’s navigator Stan Honey worried that this race could be decided on the Derwent. LDV 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, he thought. For their part the others had to hang on, stay in touch, and strike when LDV Comanche’s strength became her Achilles’ heel.
“They had the superior boat, the most powerful boat by a country mile,” the victorious 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.”
The line honours story of the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart was not the nail biting finish on the Derwent; it was how Wild Oats XI managed to be just three miles astern of LDV Comanche as they rounded Tasman.
“For our boat to be in touch with Comanche in these conditions was really impressive,” Richards said. “We did a great job. “
“’We didn’t leave much on the table,” Oats’ tactician Iain Murray admitted. “We pushed the boat to the limit. 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.”
“We are actually faster than Comanche in really strong conditions, pushing the boat to its limits,” Richards said. “We had issues with torn sails, but it is all a part of it. These big boats chew through the gear in these conditions.
“It was their turn, then it was our turn, then theirs, and as it turned out the final chapter was our turn.””
Richards conceded that the protest flag at LDV Comanche’s stern has cast a shadow over this result, but he is adamant it will come to nothing.
“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 am not concerned at all.”
For Jim Cooney, this race is not over yet. He will take the provisional line honours winner to the protest room.
When Richards rushed over to the quay to see whether the protest would go ahead, Cooney told him: “Yes, I’m going to pursue it.”
“OK, no worries, mate, no problem,” Richards said.
Later, Cooney explained the incident shortly after the start.
“It was a port/starboard infringement. We were the right-of-way boat. They were the give way boat. We hailed starboard; they were the give-way boat and they left it until far too late to tack and they tacked right in our water. We had to take evasive action or possibly take both of us out of the race. We could have taken their backstay out; they could have broken our bowsprit.”
He said he did suspect the soft weather in the Derwent would be Comanche’s Achilles heel.
“It is a very wide boat and a very big wetted surface area. It is difficult to keep it moving in very light air. We had a different forecast to that and didn't think it would be a problem,” Cooney said.
By Di Pearson, Jim Gale and Bruce Montgomery, RSHYR media