As Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI crossed the finishing line to take the overall win in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2014, she made yet another entry in the famous event’s record books
As Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI crossed the finishing line to take the overall win in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2014 , she made yet another entry in the famous event’s record books. Not only was she the fastest boat to complete the race, as well as scoring the most (four 2005-2008) back to back wins but now, with an eighth line honours victory, she was officially the Rolex Sydney Hobart’s most successful boat. Her impressive form beats that of Morna/Kurrewa IV, the holder of seven line honours titles during the 1950’s and her last in 1960.
The super maxi crossed the Tasmanian finish line at 15.03.26 local after an elapsed time of two days two hours three minutes and 26 seconds.
While her race had been one of a close duel with the brand new 100ft Comanche for the entire trip, the key moment was as the pair crossed the light weather stage in Bass Strait where ‘Oats’ managed to keep her speed on to overtake Comanche. First through the light weather meant first into the developing breeze on the other side. From there Oatley’s team stretched their advantage, at least initially.
“We were two miles ahead of them, in bumpy seas, and they literally went by us,” said Comanche’s skipper Ken Read, “probably going a knot or two faster at the time, and they just sailed into more pressure and just kept extending on the whole fleet.”
But aside from not letting their impressive pace drop as Comanche kept up the pressure on the charge south, there was one hurdle still to cross, the notoriously fluky conditions in the Derwent River on the approach to the finish. This was Comanche’s last opportunity, particularly as the breeze built along the Tasmanian coast. Earlier in the race Comanche had seen top speeds of 32 knots, confirming how potent this new VPLP designed machine is, but in the closing stages of the race conditions never built sufficiently to see this advantage. As they watched Comanche tick off the miles between them, Oatley’s crew led by skipper Mark Richardson kept their cool.
“It was inevitable that they would gain on us,” Richards said after the finish, “but we knew that once they got us they wouldn’t get past us. We finished in our perfect conditions.”
“The boys did a wonderful job in overcoming Comanche which led for the first night. I can’t believe I’m standing here today,” said Richards as he was handed the champagne and the J.H. Illingworth trophy.
“To win a Hobart is a great honour, but to win line honours for an eighth time – I’m so proud.”
Her owner was equally proud. “It’s a miracle – and we will be back next year, yes, we’ll definitely be back next year,” said Bob Oatley. “She is the best boat in the world; she’s proved that.”
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.”
“It was a race to get past the ridge,” Richards agreed, ‘that was the whole thing. They actually slowed us down in the light weather. We went to leeward of them, but couldn’t get past, so we ended up taking a big pill, lost some ground to get to weather of them. But eventually it paid off, we got past them and away we went.”
So can she stay at the top? Every year there have been major innovations made to the boat to keep her competitive. Are there more modifications to the 10-year-old boat to come?
“She always needs something,” said Oatley, “she is a very expensive girl to look after.”
“There’s not a lot left we can do to this boat other than to sail it well,” said project manager and crew member Iain Murray. “It is a great all-round boat. Clearly it has an advantage over the newer boats in light winds and it’s up to us to sail the boat in stronger winds as best we can and minimise the damage.”
Read was effusive in his praise of the Wild Oats’ crew.
“Wild Oats deserves all its success. This was their day; they had their 12 hours; they had Wild Oats’ weather; but that is boat racing,” he said speaking of the tricky transition zone.
“They deserve their eighth record, Lord knows we tried hard to take it from them. This team, our team, did an unbelievable job, and special credit to the boat builders and the design team because Lord knows we tried to break it, and it wouldn’t break.”
Meanwhile, further back in the fleet Jim Delegat’s ‘Giacomo’ was so fortunate as reports came in that the Volvo 70 had lost her mast at approximately 5.45pm sailing downwind in north-east winds gusting up to 35 knots, 21 nautical miles north-east of Cape Sonnerat. All aboard are safe and the families advised.