Wild Oats takes consecutive Sydney Hobart line honours win 28/12/06

The 23-strong crew aboard Bob Oatley’s Maxi yacht Wild Oats XI gybed their way under spinnaker in the dark up Hobart’s Derwent River to secure her second consecutive line honours win in the Rolex Sydney Hobart – the first back-to-back win in the race since Peter Warner’s Fife-designed Astor, in 1963-4.

The sleek, silver-hulled 30m super maxi gingerly motored into Hobart’s Constitution Dock to the rapturous cheers of the large and welcoming crowds.

Having passed the Derwent River’s Iron Pot light at dusk, Wild Oats XI crossed the finish line at Castray Esplanade in Hobart at 21:52:33 making her elapsed time for the 628 mile course 2 days 8 hours 52 minutes and 33 seconds, more than 14 hours slower than their record time in last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart when they scored the coveted race triple of line honours, Tattersall’s Cup handicap win, and record time.

The slower time was hardly surprising given the severe upwind conditions experienced in this year’s race that has caused nine retirements from the 78 initial starters, including two dismastings and one sinking.

Upon his arrival, Wild Oats skipper Mark ‘Ricco’ Richards praised his crew that included round the world navigator Adrienne Cahalan and former America’s Cup skipper Iain Murray: “The last couple of days these guys have been through some really tough conditions. I’m proud to have been involved in such tough race with such a great group of people and I’d like to thank all guys for being with me on such a great race.”

After a speedy run out of Sydney Harbour when their boat speed had touched 23 knots, for Wild Oats XI the most critical decision was made on the gruelling first night at sea when they chose to leave ABN AMRO One to her offshore strategy, sailing in more wind and more current, but also in considerably worse sea. While the Volvo Ocean Race winner was being battered by 30-35 knot winds, instead they headed towards the calmer waters inshore where it was blowing 25 knots. Richards explained: “We backed off a lot. I was under strict instructions from Bob [Oatley] to back off when we had to. He only told me about 500 times! There was a lot of set offshore and you can get a big gain by being there normally, but with a lot of wind and the sea state being that rough, we just didn’t want to be out there. So we opted to go inshore and stay out of the current which meant staying out of the big waves and just to look after the boat for the night.”

The only damage Wild Oats suffered was on that first night when they blew out their heavy Number 1 headsail. “We had two guys working 12 hours non-stop all night to repair that sail and we sailed with that sail pretty much all afternoon today,” said Richards.

The conditions also took its toll on the crew. “It was pretty tough,” continued Richards. “These boats are powerful and we had some big seas. Two guys got washed against stanchions pretty badly, which you have to be careful of – it’s just sailing unfortunately.”

Wild Oats will commence her return trip to Sydney tomorrow in order to make the start of the Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Race. She will then be loaded back on to a ship and will return to Europe to compete in races in the Mediterranean next season.

While during her last day at sea Wild Oats was not being seriously threatened, this was far from the case in the fight for second place between Skandia and Matt Allen’s 70 footer, Ichi Ban. Following the breakage of Skandia’s forward daggerboard on Wednesday afternoon, a day later approaching Tasman Island on the wind and in a building breeze, Ichi Ban was finally able to overhaul her larger rival.

In the end, Ichi Ban managed to hold on to second place finishing at 01:42 local time, almost four hours after Wild Oats. She was followed just 16 minutes later by Skandia, who had been closing continuously since they had freed up rounding Tasman Island.