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Redemption day for Wild Oats XI

Redemption day for Wild Oats XI
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Redemption day for Wild Oats XI

“Redemption, guys … Redemption day …” yelled a beaming Mark Richards to the cheering crowd on the docks after he skippered the 14 year-old Wild Oats XI to a record ninth line honours victory in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on Friday 28 December.

As Richards screamed, he was still on the miracle, skinny super maxi yacht that he later dubbed “the Phar Lap of yachting” - with owner Sandy Oatley and Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore Paul Billingham who presented him the John H. Illingworth trophy awarded to the line honours winner.

Around him, his crew began their celebrations for a spectacular come-from-behind win, secured in the last hour when they passed race leader, Comanche, before dawn.

After being ceremoniously thrown in the water by his crew, Richards elaborated on what the win meant to him and his crew in the aftermath of Wild Oats XI being penalised one hour after an incident following the race start with Comanche who were anointed line honours victors last year.

Wild Oats XI’s winning time for the 628 nautical mile race after crossing the finish line at 8.07.21am was one day 19 hours 7 minutes 21 seconds, almost 10 hours outside Comanche’s race record last year.

In second place was Peter Harburg’s Black Jack in 1d 19h 35m 6s, followed by the Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant owned Comanche in 1d 19h 36m 9s and then InfoTrack, owned by Christian Beck, in 1d 19h 49m 31s.

“It’s redemption for us, that’s for sure,” Richards reiterated after stepping onto the dock. “After last year’s result (which was) so disappointing.

“Today was Wild Oats’ 10th time over the line first, regardless of what anyone else says. We are so happy with the result. It was an amazing, amazing contest to the end.

“I take my hat off to all the super maxis. All teams did an awesome job. We all (the four maxis yachts) came into the Derwent together. So what more could you ask for?”

Richards compared his emotion to last year, saying: “It’s sort of black and white isn’t it? We did an awesome job last year and last year we made a mistake and we paid for that. That’s just sport, there is no issues at all.

“I take my hat off to the Comanche guys. They did a fantastic job. The boat was going really fast, way faster in the light than we thought she would. We couldn’t catch her in the light air which is really unusual.”

Asked how this ninth win weighs up against Wild Oats XI’s other victories, Richards said: “This is one of the best yachting wins of my life and I’ve won a lot of races.

“This is one of the best feelings, not just for me, but for the whole team, the Oatley family. After an event like last year, to come through and redeem yourself, today is a wonderful, wonderful feeling. Money can’t buy that sort of stuff.”

Pressed on whether he and Wild Oats XI would return next year to extend their record of wins further, he said: “Don’t rip up your tickets … you ‘gotta’ give yourself something to talk about later.”

Richards also lauded the worthiness and sheer class of Wild Oats XI, especially against such a strong calibre field of super maxis yachts, of which there were five entries, but four finishers, after Scallywag withdrew with a broken bowsprit a few hours after the Boxing Day start.

“I think there are only six grand prix hundred footers in the world,” he said. “They (the five entries) are the best 100 footers in the world - and to have a boat this old still showing the way is pretty impressive. She is a remarkable machine.

Richards praised his crew, but cited strategist, Iain Murray, navigator Juan Vila and tactician Glenn Bourke for their roles in Wild Oats XI’s move at Tasman Light at 4am when she overtook Comanche.

“There is a big transition zone there with no wind,” Richards said, adding that Vila, Murray and Bourke “picked the wind really well and the guys did and awesome job. The guys basically sailed around the opposition and got us in the position where when the breeze filled in from the sou’-west we were in the right spot and off we went. That was the game- winning manoeuvre.”