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Line Honours Winner, Wild Oats XI, Three In A Row

Sydney Hobart Yacht Race ine honours winner, Wild Oats XI, makes it three in a row

Wild Oats XI, which led all the way from the start but under pressure from the British maxi City Index Leopard right to the finish line in the River Derwent, took line honours this morning in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

The Reichel/Pugh 98, skippered by Mark Richards for owner Bob Oatley, "parked" in light air in the final few miles of the 628 nautical mile course allowing Leopard, which sailed a smart tactical race across Storm Bay and up to the finish line off Battery Point, to close down a lead of 21 miles at Tasman Island (41 miles from the finish) to three miles in the river.

Wild Oats XI eventually finished 27min 23sec ahead of Leopard at 10:24am local time, before a crowd of hundreds assembled on the Hobart waterfront.

While Wild Oats XI finished two hours and 44 minutes outside the record time of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes, and ten seconds she set in 2005, her third consecutive win equaled the record set in the race's very early days, by Claude Plowman's Fife-designed and built cutter Morna in 1946, 1947 and 1948.

Mark Richards, who has skippered and helmed Wild Oats XI for owner Bob Oatley in all three of her line honours wins, said he was conscious of the historical importance. "Three in a row? I am over the moon. The result was sensational."

Bob Oatley, asked what his feelings were, said: "One of joy; one of 'I can't believe it'; wonderful, I don't know what we are going to do next."

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Richards said Wild Oats had been under constant pressure from Leopard, which was sailed very well. "It was a really tough race, tactically very tough. There were a lot of sail changes throughout the two days and the boys haven't had much sleep. It was a challenging race and whoever got here first was going to have a well-deserved win.

"Mentally it was pretty hard. We parked three times - they were very nerve wracking times - and after all that hard work to get to the Derwent and park there, there was a lot of feeling to it. We had to work our butts off and it's all good, it makes the win even better."

At a dockside presentation, Bob Oatley and Mark Richards were presented with the J.H. Illingworth Trophy and a Rolex Yachtmaster timepiece for their line honours win.

Mike Slade of Leopard said that at one stage Wild Oats XI had been 23 miles ahead. "For some extraordinary reason, we pulled them back to three miles at the very end. It's swings and roundabouts in racing. You've got to take it as it comes, enjoy it as it is and we are all thrilled that we have done so well."

Slade continued, "Wild Oats in terms of modern technology is clear of the pack now. They have jumboed it up and that obviously worked as well."

He said Oatley's team had used the Auckland wind tunnel, with Mike Sanderson, to develop the square-topped mainsail on the new Southern Spars mast, which replaced the one Wild Oats broke in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup series at Porto Cervo in September. "With that new rig they had the opportunity to do it. Gosh it worked."

Skandia, the third canting-keeled maxi in the line honours equation, broke the top third off her mast at 2:30am while running hard before the freshening nor'wester, doing 20 knots under asymmetric spinnaker, 150 miles from the finish.

Grant Wharington, owner/skipper of the Jones-designed maxi that took line honours in the 2003 Rolex Sydney Hobart, said: "We just did a little broach; the spinnaker flogged twice and the mast snapped between the third spreader and the forestay attachment."

Wharington said Skandia had been leading the calculations for an overall win on IRC corrected time, which would have earned her the Tattersall's Cup, the race's most prized trophy. "That's all history now. We are determined to finish the race", he said.

Skandia's crew dropped the mainsail to retrieve the spinnaker that had wrapped around the keel. Crewman Casey Smith went up the mast four times to secure the damaged mast tip and Skandia resumed racing, with just the storm jib set, doing only 5.9 knots.

Four hours earlier Skandia had hit a large sunfish at speed, impaled it on her keel so badly that the sails had to be dropped and the boat reversed to clear the keel fin.

The American Farr-designed STP65 Rosebud moved to the top of the IRC overall handicap standings, ahead of Matt Allen's modified Volvo 70 Ichi Ban, followed by Leopard, Ray Roberts' Cookson 50 Quantum Racing, the Reichel/Pugh 55 Yendys (Geoff Ross), TP 52 Ragamuffin (Syd Fischer) and Wild Oats XI.

This morning the group of boats behind the maxis was having a rough, wet ride under small reaching spinnakers and reefed mainsails for some as the nor'wester freshened to 24 knots plus. Ichi Ban and Rosebud were doing speeds exceeding 22 knots.

Rosebud crewman Malcolm Park reported from the boat: "It is a wet and wild day out here. The transition to the NW breeze (early Thursday morning) was quick and painless other than it required a number of sail changes. The crew on Rosebud has now put up and taken down every sail we brought on board for the race.

"We have 24-plus knots of wind, the A7 fractional reaching kite, a genoa staysail, and a reefed main. We are able to just lay the turning point (Tasman Island) at 194 magnetic. It is a bit intense.

"We have seven guys on deck with three guys in full wet weather gear on standby down below... needless to say it is wet down below."

"We are pleased with the way we have sailed so far. It would have been nice if we did not sail into the hole yesterday morning but there was really no way we could have avoided it. We knew the hole would be there before the start and that it would give an advantage to the smaller boats.

"Now that we have some wind we are able to open up some distance on the smaller boats but whether it is enough will only be determined by how much the 40 footers are blown in on this NW breeze."

Ichi Ban's handicap chances suffered when she broke the port blade of her twin rudder system at 10.30am when they were 28 miles from Tasman Island. Matt Allen said: "We have re-balanced the boat to try and dig the starboard rudder in so we can steer. We've had a couple of broaches and we've had to slow the boat down."

At press time, Ichi Ban and Rosebud were less than 40 miles from the finish and expected to cross the line by 5pm; Skandia was 65 nm, and then the next group of boats - Yendys, Quantum Racing, and Ragamuffin - were approximately 60nm behind Skandia.


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