SYDNEY: The Australian supermaxi Wild Oats won the 61st Sydney to Hobart yacht race in record time yesterday, despite breaking its mainsail in the final stretch.
In its first major offshore race since being launched in November, Wild Oats finished the 628-nautical mile race in one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds.
The previous record set by Nokia in 1999 was one day, 19 hours, 48 minutes and two seconds.
Another recently launched supermaxi Alfa Romeo finished second.
Third across the line was the Australian supermaxi Skandia, skippered by Grant Wharrington.
Fourth was another supermaxi, Konica Minolta, skippered by New Zealander Stewart Thwaites.
Wild Oats survived a minor scare just six miles from the finish when a mainsail batten broke and it was forced to drop the big sail and continue only under a headsail.
Despite having only one sail up, Wild Oats flew up the Derwent River at about 10 knots to cross the finish line.
“We thought it was just too easy going and something had to go wrong and it did,” Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards said.
“It doesn't matter, we still finished, broke the record and the boys are very happy,” Richards told reporters once Wild Oats had docked in Hobart.
Wild Oats, a hi-tech 30m yacht with canting or swinging keel, won the start of the Sydney-Hobart on Dec 26 and flew down Australia's southeast coast with building tailwinds.
But the usually gruelling bluewater classic proved to be a race of navigational tactics with light, fickle winds at one stage seemingly robbing the big boats of a race record.
“They have been benign conditions,” said Geoff Lavis, commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia which organises the Sydney-Hobart race.
In 1998, six sailors died and dozens were rescued after a terrifying storm slammed into the fleet.
Wild Oats' winning strategy was to hug the Australian coast picking up more favourable breezes, while arch rival Alfa Romeo chose to sailing further out to sea.
“We knew if it was a downhill race we'd be hard to beat,” Richards said. “Alfa Romeo was faster for the first 12 hours but once we got the spinnaker on we took off.”
On the first night of sailing Wild Oats clocked 32 knots.
“On the first night (we decided) to stick inshore and it really paid dividends,” Richards added.
“The next day we woke up to find ourselves ahead of everyone and it stayed that way. A great game plan, we stuck to it and it worked.”
Richards also believes a supermaxi could finish the Sydney-Hobart race in as little as 35 hours.
“I'm sure this record will be shattered. Bigger boats go faster, it's as simple as that,” he told reporters. – Reuters/AFP