Wild Oats XI Wins 2008 Sydney-Hobart

Wild Oats XI, the three-time winning supermaxi, ended the 2008 Sydney-Hobart Race as she began it: with the lead over its class rival, Skandia, winning line honors for the fourth year running, though fluky winds and a shark collision made it fall short of its hoped-for record. Clear skies and fair winds greeted the start of the race and mostly continued throughout the two days before the first finishers crossed the line off Battery Point in Hobart, Tasmania.

Wild Oats XI, a 30 meter/98 foot yacht – the largest allowed by the race’s rules – was designed by the team of Reichel/Pugh and skippered by Mark Richards, is owned by Bob Oatley.  80-year-old Oatley is a wine exporter and #9 on Forbes list of richest Australians. Its Supermaxi-class rival, Skandia, was designed by Don Jones and is owned by 42-year old Australian property developer Grant Wharington.

Despite the delightful and cooperative weather, however, the race was not without incident. Early in the race, 14 crew members had to be resced from the yacht Georgia, a Farr-designed 53-footer owned by Graeme Ainley. The boat, having lost its rudder and taking on water as a result, issued a Mayday call near midnight on the 26th. Nearby competitor Telcoinabox Merit was able to assist the damaged vessel which is expected to be lost at sea.

Wild Oats XI, after taking an immediate lead fell behind Skandia shortly into the race. The steady winds north of the Bass Strait favored the lighter weight Skandia.  As the winds decreased and became fluky in the strait, Wild Oats XI made up lost way. Her efforts were nearly scuttled, however, after she hit a 6 foot shark a few hundred miles from Hobart. The shark struck the bow and became caught in the rudder as the boat passed over. Crew members needed to execute a special maneuver – using the sails to put the boat into reverse – which allowed the shark to break free and the yacht was able to resume its course.

Wild Oats XI ultimately overcame this setback to regain the lead and win the race with an unadjusted time of 1 day, 20 hours, 34 minutes and 14 seconds. For comparison, recall that this year’s 635 nautical mile Newport to Bermuda race was won by supermaxi Privateer in 2 days, 12 hours.

Winning the IRC Division 2 slot was Ragtime, the race’s sole US entrant this year.  Ragtime (ex-Infidel – bad luck to rename a boat –Ed.) owned and skippered by Chris Welsh is a wooden-hull, fixed-keel 65-footer built in 1965.

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