The 100ft super-maxi has taken line honours for a seventh time, but handicap victory looks likely to go to a smaller boat

Mark Richards skippered Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI to her seventh line honours victory in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race at 19.07.27hrs AEDT evening (Sat 28 Dec), and in doing so, equaled the seven line honours record set by the yacht first known as Morna, which took honours from 1946 to 1948 and then as Kurrewa IV in 1954, ’56, ’57 and ’60.

As a 98-footer, Wild Oats XI scored the treble of line honours, overall win and race record in 2005, the year winemaker Bob Oatley launched her. She went on to take line honours again in 2006, 2007, 2008 and in 2010 and 2012 as a 100-footer, when she scored the treble again, breaking her own race record in the time of 1 day 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.

This time, the super maxi finished in 2 days 6 hours 7 minutes and 27 seconds, Richards and his mostly long term crew (in fact seven from the 2005 crew are aboard) outside their record by more than 11 hours. They faced the toughest opposition of their Rolex Sydney Hobart career, having to take on seven boats capable of beating them, in particular, Anthony Bell’s Perpetual LOYAL, touted as the fastest super maxi in the world, along with Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin 100, which Bell sailed as Investec LOYAL to line honours victory over Wild Oats XI in 2011.

At 1715hrs, Wild Oats XI was reefed down and carrying a small headsail in Storm Bay, averaging speeds of 12-17 knots, keeping Perpetual LOYAL at bay. Bell had his boat blistering along down the Tasmanian coast at 28.2 knots, but it was too late, although he did close the gap by over 20 miles.

Dockside, while waiting for his boat to tie up, owner Bob Oatley said: “Hallelujah Ricko, Hallelujah.” Oatley said: “It was a very difficult race. We lost the lead on the first night out and then picked it up again and improved on it. The boat has a great future and more wins…”

But while Wild Oats may have taken line honours, overall victory on handicap looked likely to go to a smaller boat as a weather front brings stronger breezes from the South.

The 50 and 60-foot yachts including Ichi Ban, Patrice and Chutzpah are major contenders, along with the Beneteaus including 2013 Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race winner Brannew and the new boat owning brothers on Black Sheep, but even the stalwarts of the fleet including Blue Water Pointscore leader, Wild Rose, are in with a chance.

The 28-year-old yacht skippered by Roger Hickman, competing in his 37th Sydney Hobart, is one of those that has been in the top 10 on handicap in this race, at one point leading the field.

“We’re hoping we’ll be a little bit further south so we don’t get the full brunt of that, but that’s going to depend on how we go with the current,” said Wild Rose’s navigator Jennifer Wells.

“Some of the crew are relaxing on deck and some are sleeping, because when that front does hit, we’re going to need fresh crew and we’re trying to rest up the helmsmen as much as we can to deal with that front.”

For days navigators have been sweating over the exact direction of the front and when it will hit.

Ichi Ban navigator Will Oxley says it’s the make or break for Matt Allan’s Carkeek 60-footer in its debut ocean race.

“Our success in the race looks like it will depend on how much south is in the change,” he explained.

“If it’s more west then the fleet behind will just reach into Tasman (Island) and that won’t be so good for us.

“If it’s more south-west well then that will help us out with the chasing pack.”

Gale force wind warnings remain in place for large areas of the racecourse as the northerlies strengthen before making a dramatic swing to the west – after the super maxis are tucked up safely in Hobart.