“The first win was sweet, but this was sweeter,” an ecstatic Sandy Oatley declared on the Hobart dockside as the Oatley family’s Wild Oats XI eased into King’s Pier at the end of her remarkable come-from-behind provisional Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours victory.
“We expected LDV Comanche to take off, and it did, but we hung onto their coat tails, and we were very surprised,” he said.
At the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia a week ago LDV Comanche’s navigator Stan Honey worried that this race could be decided on the Derwent. LDV Comanche had to be so far ahead of the lighter, leaner Wild Oats XI and Black Jack when she rounded the Iron Pot at the entrance to the Derwent that they could not reel her back in when the wind went soft on the river, he thought. For their part the others had to hang on, stay in touch, and strike when LDV Comanche’s strength became her Achilles’ heel.
“They had the superior boat, the most powerful boat by a country mile,” the victorious Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards declared.
“We were in touch coming around Tasman Island and all of a sudden we saw a dream come true: a Derwent River with no wind in it. Nothing comes for free, all that power doesn’t come for free and in the Derwent the one thing you don’t need is power.”
The line honours story of the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart was not the nail biting finish on the Derwent; it was how Wild Oats XI managed to be just three miles astern of LDV Comanche as they rounded Tasman.
“For our boat to be in touch with Comanche in these conditions was really impressive,” Richards said. “We did a great job. “
“’We didn’t leave much on the table,” Oats’ tactician Iian Murray admitted. “We pushed the boat to the limit. We knew we would lose at the beginning of the race; we thought we could catch up when it got really windy, and we did, and we knew the Derwent was going to be tricky.”
“We are actually faster than Comanche in really strong conditions, pushing the boat to its limits,” Richards said. “We had issues with torn sails, but it is all a part of it. These big boats chew through the gear in these conditions.
“It was their turn, then it was our turn, then theirs, and as it turned out the final chapter was our turn.””
Richards conceded that the protest flag at LDV Comanche’s stern has cast a shadow over this result, but he is adamant it will come to nothing.
“I think we were totally innocent at the incident at the start. It is not the America’s Cup, it is the Hobart. The rules are different. I am not concerned at all.”
For Jim Cooney, this race is not over yet. He will take the provisional line honours winner to the protest room.
When Richards rushed over to the quay to see whether the protest would go ahead, Cooney told him: “Yes, I’m going to pursue it.”
“OK, no worries, mate, no problem,” Richards said.
Later, Cooney explained the incident shortly after the start.
“It was a port/starboard infringement. We were the right-of-way boat. They were the give way boat.
“We hailed starboard; they were the give-way boat and they left it until far too late to tack and they tacked right in our water.
“We had to take evasive action or possibly take both of us out of the race. We could have taken their backstay out; they could have broken our bowsprit.”
He said he did suspect the soft weather in the Derwent would be Comanche’s Achilles heel.
“It is a very wide boat and a very big wetted surface area. It is difficult to keep it moving in very light air. We had a different forecast to that and didn't think it would be a problem,” Cooney said.
By Jim Gale and Bruce Montgomery, RSHYR media