Bob Oatley’s five-time Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honours winner, Wild Oats XI,beat her 2005 record time this morning, in a gentle glide to the finish that kept everyone on the edge of their seats. She finished in one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds, taking 16 minutes and 58 seconds off her old record.
The time difference was a long one in terms of how the crew would have been feeling in those last 16 minutes of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's 628 nautical mile race. Could they or couldn't they?
At 5 am today,Wild Oats XI's 2005 record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds seemed out of reach, but at about 7 am, her dashed hopes were revived, and as the minutes ticked by, her chances improved.
Initially, skipper Mark Richards and his crew were a tantalisingly 40 minutes outside the record time and were expected to finish at about 8.30 am. However, as the clock ticked, the super maxi picked up speed to around 15 knots and her finish time was upgraded to 8.00 am, then 7.50 am, 7.36 am, 7.23am and 7.13 am with five nautical miles to go.
The breeze eased. Richards ordered a bigger headsail to keep it moving, which ended with their record victory. It remains to be seen whetherWild Oats XIcan go all the way and take the treble (victory on corrected time as well as line honours and the race record).
Dockside, Richards said: "We're all over the moon. How many places have this level of race with a fleet this size?
"Last year we were beaten by Investec Loyal (now Ragamuffin-Loyal) by three minutes, which was very disappointing. This year we beat them by much more."
Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin-Loyal that was about 45 miles behind the line honours winner.
"We'll be back next year," Richards said.
Of the new record, he said: "We just kept chipping away. You expect it to be light in the Derwent and it did get lighter towards the end. This is a very testing event and the Derwent is very, very, testing. It's always a tough race.
"We have a great bunch of people on board and we're all good mates," Richards said of the mostly long term crew who were aboard in 2005 and are still sailing the boat today.
Of navigator Adrienne Cahalan (who was aboard for the 2005 record) and co-navigator Tom Addis, Richards said: "They did a great job. It's a difficult job with meteorology to look at, all the updates and critical decisions to make."
Richards also praised tactician Iain Murray, who has taken time out of his role as Regatta Director and CEO of the America's Cup Race Management (ACRM) organisation to return to sail the yacht again.
"I can't wait to give the Oatley family a big hug," Richards said, grinning from ear to ear.
He said that although the race was a relatively easy one "we had some very hard and fast running conditions; we blew out a spinnaker and had some gear failure, so it wasn't all smooth sailing".
Covered live on Channel 7, the tension could be seen in the faces and movements of the Wild Oats XI crew, which included Murray, Cahalan and Addis and Steve Jarvin, who was thrilled to claim the record on his milestone 25th race, as they sailed the final miles to Castray Esplanade.
Through dint of luck, or just choosing the right boats, Jarvin also holds the record for the most line honours victories in the race's history, this being his tenth.
Following his boat down the Derwent River aboard a spectator boat, owner Bob Oatley looked close to tears as his ever-evolving yacht made it across the line in record time. Joining Oatley in the celebrations were his wife Val, son Sandy and their families.
"We've never given up; we'll try to do it again next year.
"New wings on the keel helped enormously I'm sure, so did the new jib. The design, the crew, the sails and the modifications are what makes the boat fast," Oatley said dockside.
"I'm over the moon," he added, keen to reach Richards, or Ricko, as he's known in yachting circles, and the crew.
Wild Oats XIwill go into the history books as only the second boat in the history of the race to break its own race record. OnlyMorna, later renamedKurrewa IV, exceeds that record, have cracked its race record twice.
By Di Pearson, Rolex Sydney Hobart media team