Wild Oats finishes Sydney-Hobart in record time, faces likely protest

Sydney (AFP) –


Supermaxi Wild Oats XI finished the gruelling Sydney to Hobart race in record time late Wednesday, but confirmation of its ninth line honours win could be delayed by a protest from second-placed LDV Comanche.

Wild Oats completed the 628-nautical mile (1,163-kilometre) bluewater classic in a time of 1 day, 8hrs, 48min and 50sec, well inside the previous record set last year.

The 100-footers had been in a fierce battle down Australia's east coast to the finish line at Hobart's Constitution Dock Wednesday, swapping the lead several times.

But the epic contest might not be over, with Comanche expected to lodge a protest against Wild Oats following a near-collision exiting Sydney Heads on Tuesday in which the latter boat appeared to tack too close to her rival.

The protest must be lodged within six hours and an international jury will assess the evidence.

With Comanche finishing just minutes behind Wild Oats, a possible punishment such as a time penalty could determine which yacht is crowned the winner.

The 103-strong fleet, whittled down to 100 after three yachts retired, benefited from ideal wind conditions after a spectacular start from Sydney Harbour on Tuesday.

The four supermaxis taking part, which include Black Jack and InfoTrack, were the favourites to take the line honours title.

The favourable weather had raised expectations the 2016 record time of 1 day 13hr 31min 20sec, set by Perpetual Loyal (renamed InfoTrack this year), would be easily broken.

"It's something quite extraordinary when you find that the race record in these days is beaten by five hours, as it was last year," Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore John Markos told reporters earlier Wednesday.

"We were all pretty staggered that the race (record) was so comprehensively beaten, and to find that the very next year that you've got the potential to beat it by several more hours is really extraordinary."

The fast-paced race slowed significantly as the big boats entered the notoriously sluggish Derwent River in Hobart, with thousands waiting for the leaders as the sun set over the southern island city.

- Celebrations -

This was the strongest line-up of supermaxis to contest the Sydney to Hobart, with all four having won line honours in previous races.

There were jubilant scenes for Wild Oats and her supporters after her arrival in Hobart, despite uncertainty over the final outcome.

The Mark Richards-skippered vessel had earlier closed the gap on Comanche helmed by Jim Cooney, even as she sailed "bare-headed" -- mainsail-only -- for some time after damaging the topsail, which is suited to the conditions.

Currently in third place was Black Jack, followed by InfoTrack, with Hong Kong businessman Karl Kwok's 80-footer Beau Geste fifth.

In the race for the Tattersall Cup (overall winner) -- the handicap honour for the vessel that performs best according to size -- Matt Allen's new TP52 Ichi Ban was leading the charge ahead of Wizard.