Wild Oats XI takes line honours in 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart

After nearly two days of wildly varying wind pressure, all of it coming from astern, the most successful yacht in the history of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race took her ninth line honours victory. Crossing the line at 8.07.21am on Friday December 28, the Oatley family's 100ft supermaxi, Wild Oats XI, erased memories of last year's disaster when she crossed the finish line first but was penalised an hour for a port/starboard incident with Comanche shortly after the start. However, she was more than 10 hours behind Comanche's race record, set last year, of 1 day, 9 hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds.

Val Oatley described Wild Oats XI’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honours victory perfectly alongside the dock in Hobart this morning: “Three years of misery to this moment,” and you could not wipe the smile from her face or that of her sons, Sandy and Ian, as they waited for their super maxi to moor alongside Kings Pier.

Watching four super maxis dicing from the start of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 628 nautical mile race, Sandy Oatley commented: “I was very nervous watching the tracker last night – isn’t this a wonderful sight…”

Three years of trauma for the Wild Oats family when the yacht retired from the 2015 race with a torn main followed by Bob Oatley’s death in January 2016. Another retirement in 2016, this time with hydraulic ram issues. Then came last year’s much publicised finish when Wild Oats XI was penalised one hour after an incident with Comanche and lost her line honours crown and a new race record to Jim Cooney’s ‘aircraft carrier’.

This year’s victory makes it a new record of nine line honours for Wild Oats XI, which broke the seven years of line honours stranglehold of Kurrewa/Morna in 2014 with her eighth line honours crown.

Perennial skipper Mark ‘Ricko’ Richards generously handed the helm over to the Late Bob Oatley’s grandson, Daniel (Ian Oatley’s son), on his third Sydney Hobart on the family yacht, before they crossed the finish line after gybing all the way up the River under Code Zero.

“Redemption, guys … Redemption day …” yelled a beaming Richards to the cheering crowd on the docks.

Asked how this ninth win weighs up against Wild Oats XI’s other victories, Richards said: “This is one of the best yachting wins of my life and I’ve won a lot of races.

“This is one of the best feelings, not just for me, but for the whole team, the Oatley family. After an event like last year, to come through and redeem yourself, today is a wonderful, wonderful feeling. Money can’t buy that sort of stuff.”

Although Scallywag retired on the first day with a broken bow sprit, the other four 100 footers battled constantly for the lead.

Peter Harburg's Black Jack won the start and was first out of the harbour, Comanche quickly took over in the moderate to strong reaching conditions of the first afternoon, then the lead oscillated as the winds went light in Bass Strait. But finally it was Wild Oats' turn to shine in the light conditions that met the supermaxis off the south coast of Tasmania. Taking a more easterly track than her rivals, she was able to go past them at the entrance to Storm Bay.

She pulled away to a lead of 4.4nm over Comanche in the run up the Derwent (yes, the constant northerlies had come around to the south to push the big boats up the river) and the victory never looked in doubt as the sun rose.

Comanche and Black Jack were locked in a battle for second place, with Black Jack sailing slightly faster and closing the gap. Off Susan Beach, the Queenslanders sailed past Comanche and held on to take second place by just a minute and 3 seconds. As Oats crossed the line, Infotrack was a further 3.7nm behind to take fourth. 

Black Jack will have bragging rights in the handicap stakes, but none of the supermaxis will figure in the overall stakes unless the wind dies completely.

– Roger McMillan, with additional material from Rolex Sydney Hobart Media Team.

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