MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian super-maxi Wild Oats XI gained redemption for their sensational relegation in last year’s race to clinch their ninth Sydney to Hobart line honours on Friday in one of the closest finishes in the race’s history.
The Mark Richards-skippered Wild Oats XI finished the 74th edition of the bluewater classic in Hobart at about 8:07 am local (2107 GMT, Thursday) completing the 630-nautical mile (1,170 kilometre) race in one day, 19 hours, seven minutes and 21 seconds.
Black Jack, which had led the fleet out of Sydney Harbour on Wednesday, pipped last year’s winners Comanche into second place after a fascinating match-race in light winds up the River Derwent.
The Mark Bradford-skippered Black Jack finished almost 28 minutes behind Wild Oats XI, with Comanche just over a minute behind.
The fourth remaining super-maxi in the race, Infotrack, finished about 13 minutes behind Comanche.
The victory was redemption for the Oatley-family owned Wild Oats XI, having crossed the line first last year in a race record time only to incur a one-hour penalty following a near collision with Comanche about 15 minutes after the start.
Comanche were then awarded line honours in a race record time of one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds, with Wild Oats XI relegated to second.
“It’s a day of redemption for us that’s for sure,” Richards told reporters in Hobart on Friday. “We’re so happy with the result.”
While it was Wild Oats XI’s ninth line hours win, it was their first since 2014 and Richards praised not only his crew but also the yacht.
“Wild Oats XI, what an Australian icon. Fourteen years old and to do what she did today I think is just amazing,” Richards said.
This year’s race was one of the tightest in history as all four super-maxis were in close contact, with the lead changing several times as they battled fickle and shifting winds.
Wild Oats XI overhauled Comanche shortly after 4 a.m. local time and took advantage of the weakening winds to extend their lead as they approached the River Derwent.
“It was an amazing contest all the way until the end and I take my hat off to all of the maxi boats,” Richards added.
“We basically sailed around the opposition and got ourselves into a position where the breeze filled in from the southwest – this morning we were in the right spot.
“That was a game-winning manoeuvre right there.“
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ed Osmond)