Four years in the making and still smarting from being stripped of its win in 2017, Wild Oats XI and its crew took line honors for a record ninth time in one of the tensest finishes to the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race in its 73-year history.
It saw four 100-foot supermaxis vying to be first into the Tasmanian capital with the outcome in doubt until Wild Oats XI crossed the finish line after covering the 628 nautical miles in one day, 19 hours, seven minutes and 21 seconds.
Following its eighth victory in 2014, Wild Oats was forced to retire from the following two editions before the 2017 race saw it cross the line first but relegated to second place behind Comanche after being handed a one-hour penalty for a near-collision with its arch rival.
After so much adversity, including the 2016 death of the yacht’s owner Bob Oatley, it was an emotional skipper Mark Richards who gave his reaction.
“Redemption for us, that is for sure. Last year, it was so disappointing,” Richards told reporters.
“Whether people like it or not, it is Wild Oats XI’s 10th time over that line first, no matter what anyone else says… After an event like last year and to come through and redeem yourself is a wonderful feeling, money can’t buy it.”
Oatley’s widow Val, told the official race website that victory had ended “three years of misery to this moment.”
Wild Oats XI and Comanche had swapped the lead after leaving Sydney Harbor on Boxing Day, with Black Jack and Infotrack also in strong contention.
Lighter winds in the Bass Strait meant the record of one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds set by Comanche last year was never under threat, but made for an unpredictable outcome.
Wild Oats XI made its winning surge early Thursday to take the lead for the final time, but all four supermaxis were still in with a chance of victory in the final unpredictable stretch down the Derwent River.
Black Jack eventually finished in second place, 18 minutes behind Wild Oats XI and just a minute ahead of Comanche.
Infotrack came in fourth, 42 minutes behind to emphasize the closeness of battle.
While Wild Oats and its connections celebrated victory, there was a note of controversy as Black Jack’s owner Peter Harburg claimed the winner had infringed race rules.
Harburg told ABC television that he believed the tracker on Wild Oats had not been on during the late stages of the race, disadvantaging his boat and third-placed Comanche.
Harburg said they would not be making an official protest and a spokesman for Wild Oats added: “There is no issue for us to answer at all. The AIS (tracker) was turned on the whole time.”
While the faster and bigger yachts had finished, the other entries in the surviving 80-strong fleet were battling for the prestigious handicap prize for the Tattersall Cup, the best performer according to boat size.
Last year’s winner Ichi Ban was set to finish 10th overall and leading that race, Matt Allen and his crew poised to become the first since 1965 to retain that title.
Nicknamed the Bluewater Classic, the annual Sydney to Hobart race is one of the most challenging on the yachting calendar with the Bass Strait between the Australian mainland often providing treacherous conditions.
Six competitors died in the 1998 edition in a brutal storm and the fleet marked the 20th anniversary with a moment of radio silence Thursday.