The crew work and light airs performance of Bob Oatley's 100ft super-maxi Wild Oats XI was just too good for the opposition in the Rolex Sydney Hobart this year. Comanche, the high-tech newcomer from the USA was valiant in defeat but wasn't able to stay with the Australian when the wind went light.
The defining moment for skipper Mark Richards and his crew came on the second night when the south-westerly died and the winds wafted round to the north. Oats had stalked Comanche since the Americans won the start on Sydney Harbour and she was never much more than a mile astern. Picking up her own private little ridge of pressure, Oats ghosted away in the darkness to a 40nm lead.
For most of today Comanche has been eating into that lead. At one stage the race tracker was predicting that she would actually arrive in Hobart two minutes ahead of the defending champion. But the tracker is a computer program and doesn't take into account the right-hand turn at Tasman Island or the beat across Storm Bay and up the Derwent.
Oats was still 10nm ahead of Comanche when she rounded Tasman and from there her speed came back up to match her rival. The weather god, Huey, was obviously backing the local as the wind came round, allowing her to hoist the downwind sail.
After one long reach across Storm Bay she gybed for the Iron Pot. Another two gybes off Kingston were needed before she could lay the finish line at Battery Point, finally crossing at 15.03 for an elapsed time of 2 days 2 hours 3 minutes 26 seconds. This was well outside her race record, set in 2012, of 1 day 18 hours 23 minutes and 12 seconds. Comanche finished nearly 50 minutes later.
An exultant and obviously relieved Mark Richards said of his boat: “She had the legs all the way round the track and that's what counted today. The boys did a wonderful job in overcoming Comanche which led for the first night. I can’t believe I’m standing here today. To win a Hobart is a great honour, but to win line honours for an eighth time – I’m so proud.”
Bob Oatley was effusive dockside as his yacht was brought to the dock by the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania escort vessel: “It’s a miracle – and we will be back next year, yes, we’ll definitely be back next year, a clearly emotional Oatley said. “She is the best boat in the world; she’s proved that.”
And Ken Read and his crew on the new ‘aircraft carrier’, dubbed so because two of Wild Oats’ narrow stern could fit inside that of Comanche’s, found the same problem, unable to recover the ground it had lost in Bass Strait.
Dignified in defeat, Comanche’s owner, Jim Clark, said: “Wild Oats and Mark Richards ran one hell of a race and it’s a really excellent boat. Disappointed we got stuck in that high pressure system, but they managed to sneak through it. And you’ve got to give them credit, that’s the nature of that boat, they’ve got the balance.
Will he bring Comanche back to the race? “We’ll see if we’re back next year, not sure. We have a lot of big plans and I just don’t know whether we’ll make it back or not, we’ll have talk to the crew and see what they think.”
It will be a long wait for watchers in Hobart before the next boat arrives. At this stage it is scheduled to be another 100 footer, Rio 100, at around 12.30am tomorrow. She was leading Black Jack, Alive and Ragamuffin 100, all of whom still had more than 140nm to sail.
While most attention has focused on the five 100 footers this year, it is the smallest boat in the race, Maluka of Kermandie, that leads on IRC. However the small boats are likely to run out of wind tonight before being hammered by gale force south-westerlies as they beat up Storm Bay. This could allow one of the 50 footers from Division 1 or 2 to take the prized Tatersalls Trophy but that won't be known for at least two more days.
– Roger McMillan, with additional quotes from Di Pearson, CYCA Media