Record Sydney-Hobart finish but drama to come
AFTER 628 nautical miles of close combat, a near-miss and cat-and-mouse tactics Wild Oats XI has pulled off one of the great comebacks of Australian sport this year to beat rival supermaxi LDV Comanche for a record-breaking line honours win in the 73rd Sydney to Hobart.
Wild Oats crossed the line with a blistering time of 1 day, 8 hours, 48 minutes, 50 seconds. It beat Comanche to the punch by just 26 minutes.
It was third time lucky for the nine-time champion, sent to the blood bin in 2015 and 2016 with gear and sail damage and whose campaign could have been derailed again this year by two damaged sails.
But Mark Richards and his team must wait to see if a protest lodged by Comanche over a close call at sea will be upheld. A panel set to convene on Thursday to look into the protest will decide if Wild Oats XI's victory is officially ratified.
But Richards didn't seemed fazed by the protest, saying he would not have protested over the incident and had video footage which he believes proves Wild Oat's innocence.
"If we though it was a blatant infringement we would have done our turn," he said.
"I'm not concerned about it at all.''
The win is the first by the 12-year-old yacht since the death of her owner Bob Oatley, sailing lover and patriarch of a family with business in tourism and wine, who died in January 2016, aged 87.
Val Oatley said she believed her late husband had been with the crew the entire way.
"And he was probably behind that lightning strike as well, giving everyone a kick along,'' she said of the yacht being struck by lighting when a violent storm swept through Sydney just over a week before the race start.
"It was very emotional out here tonight.
"This is the best win. This and the first (in 2005) They are very special."
Richards said he had decided not to take Oatley's walking stick on the boat as he had originally planned.
"We reckon he'd done enough with that lighting strike,'' Richards laughed.
"We gave him three cheers when we crossed.
"Without his passion we wouldn't have her. She's a nine-time winner and a three-time record holder. That's very special."
Wild Oats trailed LDV Comanche for 24 hours before finally overtaking her rival with just five miles of the course to sail.
The race came down to the final 11 nautical miles on the Derwent River in a cliffhanger for the race annals Andy which saw Perpetual Loyals 2016 time of just over one day and 13 hours smashed.
Thousands of spectators flocked to the foreshore of the river to watch the engrossing duel played out in twilight before her eventual win in darkness.
In an extraordinary final stanza of the race, LDV Comanche was clocked at 30 knots as she powered across Storm Bay with the win and race record in sight.
But then disaster struck with Jim Cooney's yacht grinding to a halt in a windless parking lot around 12 miles from the finish line.
Behind her Wild Oats made up ground to come within around 500m of her rival to set up the finish straight thriller.
Wild Oats finally clawed her way alongside Comanche at 8.26pm but could not overtake.
Around eight minutes later the world 24 hour record breaker LDV Comanche's fate was sealed when Wild Oats XI wafted by.
Both crews had teams standing almost 100 foot in the air on the top spreader wind-watching as the searched for any advantage.
But in the end it was game, set match - and new race record - to Wild Oats XI.