so near, and yet…

Game over. All it took was a slight touch of bad luck and a small tactical mis-step and the Sydney-Hobart line-honours lead that Comanche had clung to for so long evaporated.

As they closed the Tasmanian coast off Maria Island last night Wild Oats XI held further East and was able to maintain good speed along a smooth track. Comanche, closer to the land, sailed into a dead zone and had to gybe away to find better breeze. That one short extra leg cost them the race. WOXI took the lead, Black Jack was right beside them with Infotrack not far behind. From first to third in an eye-blink.

As dawn broke those four leading yachts rounded Tasman Island, still in close company. From there it is a notoriously tricky 40-mile passage across Storm Bay and up the Derwent River to the finish off Battery Point in Hobart. There was enough pressure to keep the 100-footers moving at up to 10 knots but they needed every square inch of their huge Code Zeros and A sails.  

The breakfast TV shows featured stunning live images of the final stages. Flat water, a glorious golden sunrise, and everything to play for. Hoist a man to the masthead to spot the slight gusts and holes, hold your nerve, pick the right gybe angles. Everything else being more-or-less equal the much slimmer hulls of Wild Oats and Black Jack should now outpace the broad-arsed Comanche and Infotrack. Glory beckons!

And so it came to pass. WOXI skipper Mark Richards sailed a perfect last few miles and took their 9th line honours win – a feat unlikely to ever be matched, and bettered only by the same boat when they compete in the 75th Sydney-Hobart next year.  

All four supermaxis have now finished and their elapsed times show what a close race it was:

Wild Oats XI 1:19:07:21
Black Jack 1:19:35:06
Comanche 1:19:36:09
Infotrack 1:19:49:31

Well done. After the disappointments of two recent retirements, an unexpected defeat by Loyal and the 1-hour time penalty last year, this victory is already being described by the commentators as “redemption”. Revenge may indeed be a dish best served cold, but for Mark Richards and the Wild Oats team, it must taste very sweet.

Meanwhile, the leading contenders for the IRC overall prize still have 100 miles to sail.

–  Anarchist David