Wild Oats XI broke its own race record by almost 17 minutes to capture line honors in sailing’s Sydney to Hobart for the sixth time in eight starts.
The 100-foot (30-meter) supermaxi, owned by wine producer Bob Oatley and skippered by Mark Richards, finished the 628-nautical mile event in 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds, taking 16 minutes, 58 seconds off the record it set in 2005, when it also won the race on overall handicap.
The record had looked out of reach after winds that had kept the boat ahead of pace weakened overnight. The breeze picked up again this morning, allowing Wild Oats XI to increase speed to about 15 knots (17 miles-per-hour) and cross the finish line at 7.23 a.m. local time, according to the race’s website.
“We only just made it but it’s a great result for the whole team,” Richards said in a televised interview. “It was a very tricky night, the breeze died on us. Getting the record is a big thing and it’s very satisfying.”
Wild Oats XI has now beaten the fleet to Hobart in all but two editions of the race since first entering in 2005. The record for most line honors wins is held by Morna/Kurrewa IV, which sailed to seven victories under two different owners and two different names, the last time in 1960 as Kurrewa IV.
The pre-race favorite with bookmakers, Wild Oats XI was the first of the 76 starters out of Sydney Heads on Dec. 26 and led all the way in the 68th edition of the event that takes competitors down Australia’s southeast coast and across Bass Strait to the island state of Tasmania.
The victory came 12 months after Wild Oats was beaten by Investec Loyal by 3 minutes, 8 seconds in the closest finish since 1982. That defeat prompted modifications to improve its speed under light winds with the addition of keel winglets, a retractable bow centerboard and a light-weather headsail which is larger than two tennis courts.
“New wings on the keel helped enormously I’m sure, so did the new jib,” Oatley said. “The design, the crew, the sails and the modifications are what makes the boat fast. We’ll try to do it again next year.”