Yachting: Wild Oats XI wins Sydney to Hobart race in record time

HOBART, Australia: Supermaxi Wild Oats XI smashed its own record time by nearly 17 minutes in Australia's Sydney to Hobart ocean yacht race, taking line honours on Friday ahead of Ragamuffin-Loyal.

Thousands of onlookers cheered at Hobart's Constitution Dock as the favourite came home in one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds for its sixth victory over the prestigious 628 nautical mile bluewater classic.

Wild Oats XI also won every year from 2005 to 2008 and in 2010.

"It was close, we only just made it but it's a great result for the whole team," skipper Mark Richards said after crossing the finish line.

"This boat is a great machine and we're very proud of it. Getting the record is a big thing and it's very satisfying."

Ragamuffin-Loyal, which beat Wild Oats by just three minutes last year and is skippered by 85-year-old Syd Fischer, finished four-and-a-half hours later with gear damage hampering a bid for back-to-back wins.

"A lot of things just went wrong," said Fischer. "But it's a good boat, well built, strong and it goes fast. We'll make modifications for next year."

Lahana was running third in a tight battle with Black Jack, ahead of Loki in fifth. Jazz leads the handicap standings, which takes into account the dimensions of each boat in the fleet, ahead of Calm and Secret Men's Business.

The previous record was one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds, set in 2005, and Richards had his 100-foot yacht well ahead of that pace late Thursday as they powered down Tasmania's east coast.

But a northeasterly tailwind gave way to a weaker westerly that dramatically slowed progress.

Wild Oats' crew had all but given up on breaking the record after rounding Tasman Island in the middle of the night and it was touch and go as they sailed up Hobart's Derwent River.

But the unfurling of a bigger headsail ultimately made the difference to tack home surrounded by a flotilla of smaller vessels.

"It was a very tricky night, the breeze died on us. It was very testing and we had to make a lot of sail changes, but it's all part of the Sydney-Hobart," said Richards.

"The crew have been together a long time and when the going gets tough they just get tougher."

Wild Oats XI led the 76-vessel fleet from the starting gun in Sydney Harbour on Wednesday in a famously unforgiving race that takes crews across the notorious Bass Strait.

As well as dealing with the tough conditions, the boat hit an unknown object that damaged a daggerboard beneath the hull.

Catastrophic conditions claimed six lives and sank five yachts in 1998, and vessels are routinely unable to complete the race.

However, there have so far only been two retirements this year - Living Doll and Primitive Cool.

The 2013 event was marred by the controversial expulsion of supermaxi Wild Thing, the 2003 line honours winner, which was among the top three favourites.

Officials banned it just hours before the start, citing incomplete documentation of major modifications that extended the vessel to 100 feet. Skipper Grant Wharington continued to protest Friday.

He claimed the man who banned his yacht, race director Tim Cox, did not know enough about boat-building and had "egg on his face".

Cox rejected the criticism and told Wharington to "lay off the personal insults", according to Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

- AFP/de

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