The discovery of a fishy stowaway helped Australian maxi Wild Oats XI surge to an unprecedented fourth successive line honors victory in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race yesterday, captain Mark Richards said. The 30m carbon-fibre yacht, which had been trailing rivals Skandia for most of Saturday, was forced to stop to free the 2m shark that had got tangled in its aft rudder on Saturday evening.
Richards said the crew had already thought something had been impeding the yacht since it left Sydney Harbor on Friday before they struck the shark.
After the shark freed itself, Wild Oats XI surged ahead of the 2003 winner and crossed the finish line in the island state of Tasmania at 9.34am on Sunday, an hour before Skandia.
“It was a godsend in the end because the second we got him off, the boat was back to its old self,” Richards told reporters at Hobart’s Constitution Dock. “It might have been something off a spectator boat, I mean it was just a washing machine, a nightmare, you never know what could have happened,” he said of the possible reason for its problems.
Richards said he had thought about sending a crew member over the side to inspect the keel, but the tight match race they were in with Skandia never gave him the opportunity.
Wild Oats XI, which equalled the record for three successive victories achieved by Claude Plowman’s Morna from 1946-1948 last year, failed to beat its own race record of one day, 18 hours 40 minutes and 10 seconds.
Fickle conditions overnight ended their chances of breaking the record after both yachts appeared on course to eclipse it after favorable northerly winds had propelled them down the east coast of Australia to the island state of Tasmania.
Ichi Ban crossed the line third in the blue water classic, about 45 minutes after Skandia.
Three of the 100 yachts that started in Sydney on Friday have retired, with the 14 crew of Georgia having to be rescued by fellow competitors when it suffered rudder damage and began to sink on Friday.
Swiss cruising yacht Pachamama:TOP to TOP was bringing up the rear of the fleet and not expected to finish until Saturday.
The current edition marks the 10th anniversary of the 1998 race, when six sailors died as the worst storm in the event’s history pounded the fleet. Of the 115 boats that started, five sank and 66 retired. A subsequent inquiry resulted in stricter safety regulations for competing yachts and crews.