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Wild Oats XI Takes Record Eighth Sydney–Hobart Win

28th December 2014
Wild Oats XI Takes Record Eighth Sydney–Hobart Win

#rshyr – Wild Oats XI has secured a record eighth line honours victory in Australia's Sydney–Hobart Race.

"This is the sweetest victory by far," Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards declared today after steering the silver-grey thoroughbred to the historic win.

"To rewrite a bit of sailing history doesn't come along every day. To win a Hobart is a great honour but to win an eighth; I can't believe I am here," Richards said.

"It's been the hardest win," owner Bob Oatley added. "Comanche is an exceptional yacht, probably the most expensive yacht ever built. A wonderful boat. When she took off at the start of the race I was amazed."

"Comanche was unbelievably impressive down Sydney Harbour," Richards said, "and the whole first night she had the legs on us. We thought, 'how are we going to handle this thing'?

"It was definitely our toughest race. To have a boat so close for so much of the race, especially when she's faster than you. I said to the guys 'we've got to hang in there, hang tough, minimise our losses and wait for the first opportunity we get to attack'.

The break came on Saturday morning in the middle of Bass Strait. Gone were the fresh conditions of the first day, ahead loomed a ridge of high pressure sweeping between the mainland and Tasmania; a wall of light air that would define the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart.

Get through the gate in time and there would be a light breeze, but a breeze nevertheless. Get caught on the wrong side and face a purgatory of calm. Wild Oats XImade the closing gate and, at last, found the lighter conditions that so suited her. She steadily pulled away from Comanche, opening up a 40 mile lead.

"It was a race to get through that gate from three days before the race," when the Bureau of Meteorology warned the competing crews of the looming ridge at the pre-race briefing at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, said Wild Oats XI's tactician Iain Murray.

"Luckily for us, we just got through the gate. Comanche got there too, but they were slow out of it. We did really well to hang onto them in the rough stuff and still be side by side with her on Saturday morning, and then it was our turn."

"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."

The nine year-old slim Wild Oats XI, designed by Reichel/Pugh and built by McConaghy, is faster in light airs than the more powerful wider and heavier Comanche.

Oatley's yacht was in her element in Bass Strait. But as the winds built up again this morning, the balance swung back in favour of the big American. As the pair raced down the Tasmanian coast she gradually reeled Oats back in. But with lighter air forecast in Storm Bay, Richards remained confident.

"It was inevitable that they would gain on us," Richards said, "but we knew that once they got us they wouldn't get past us. We finished in our perfect conditions."

So is it official now? Is Wild Oats XI one of the greatest Sydney Hobart yachts of all time, alongside the likes of Solo,Astor, Kurrewa IV, Kialoa and Condor of Bermuda?

"Just look at the record," Richards beamed, "she'll go down as one of the legends of the race."

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," Bob Oatley laughs, "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," Iain Murray says. "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."

Follow the race on the live tracker here.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Afloat.ie Team

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The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is an annual offshore yacht racing event with an increasingly international exposure attracting super maxi yachts and entries from around tne world. It is hosted by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, starting in Sydney, New South Wales on Boxing Day and finishing in Hobart, Tasmania. The race distance is approximately 630 nautical miles (1,170 km).

The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - FAQs

The number of Sydney Hobart Yacht Races held by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia since 1945 is 75

6,257 completed the Sydney Hobart Yacht race, 1036 retired or were disqualified)

About 60,061 sailors have competed in the Sydney Hobart Race between 1945 and 2019

Largest fleets: 371 starters in the 50th race in 1994 (309 finished); 154 starters in 1987 (146 finished); 179 starters in 1985 (145 finished); 151 starters in 1984 (46 finished); 173 started in 1983 (128 finished); 159 started in 1981 (143 finished); 147 started in 1979 (142 finished); 157 started in 2019 (154 finished)

116 in 2004 (59 finished); 117 in 2014 (103 finished); 157 in 2019 (154 finished)

Nine starters in the inaugural Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in 1945

In 2015 and 2017 there were 27, including the 12 Clipper yachts (11 in 2017). In the record entry of 371 yachts in the 50th in 1994, there were 24 internationals

Rani, Captain John Illingworth RN (UK). Design: Barber 35’ cutter. Line and handicap winner

157 starters, 154 finishers (3 retirements)

IRC Overall: Ichi Ban, a TP52 owned by Matt Allen, NSW. Last year’s line honours winner: Comanche, Verdier Yacht Design and VPLP (FRA) owned by Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant, in 1 day 18 hours, 30 minutes, 24 seconds. Just 1hour 58min 32secs separated the five super maxis at the finish 

1 day 9 hours 15 minutes and 24 seconds, set in 2017 by LDV Comanche after Wild Oats XI was penalised one hour in port/starboard incident for a finish time of 1d 9h 48m 50s

The oldest ever sailor was Syd Fischer (88 years, 2015).

As a baby, Raud O'Brien did his first of some six Sydney Hobarts on his parent's Wraith of Odin (sic). As a veteran at three, Raud broke his arm when he fell off the companionway steps whilst feeding biscuits to the crew on watch Sophie Tasker sailed the 1978 race as a four-year-old on her father’s yacht Siska, which was not an official starter due to not meeting requirements of the CYCA. Sophie raced to Hobart in 1979, 1982 and 1983.

Quite a number of teenage boys and girls have sailed with their fathers and mothers, including Tasmanian Ken Gourlay’s 14-year-old son who sailed on Kismet in 1957. A 12-year-old boy, Travis Foley, sailed in the fatal 1998 race aboard Aspect Computing, which won PHS overall.

In 1978, the Brooker family sailed aboard their yacht Touchwood – parents Doug and Val and their children, Peter (13), Jacqueline (10), Kathryne (8) and Donald (6). Since 1999, the CYCA has set an age limit of 18 for competitors

Jane (‘Jenny’) Tate, from Hobart, sailed with her husband Horrie aboard Active in the 1946 Race, as did Dagmar O’Brien with her husband, Dr Brian (‘Mick’) O’Brien aboard Connella. Unfortunately, Connella was forced to retire in Bass Strait, but Active made it to the finish. The Jane Tate Memorial Trophy is presented each year to the first female skipper to finish the race

In 2019, Bill Barry-Cotter brought Katwinchar, built in 1904, back to the start line. She had competed with a previous owner in 1951. It is believed she is the oldest yacht to compete. According to CYCA life member and historian Alan Campbell, more than 31 yachts built before 1938 have competed in the race, including line honours winners Morna/Kurrewa IV (the same boat, renamed) and Astor, which were built in the 1920s.

Bruce Farr/Farr Yacht Design (NZL/USA) – can claim 20 overall wins from 1976 (with Piccolo) up to and including 2015 (with Balance)

Screw Loose (1979) – LOA 9.2m (30ft); Zeus II (1981) LOA 9.2m

TKlinger, NSW (1978) – LOA 8.23m (27ft)

Wild Oats XI (2012) – LOA 30.48m (100ft). Wild Oats XI had previously held the record in 2005 when she was 30m (98ft)

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