If you went up to someone random on the street and asked them what they thought Australia’s top five most successful sports were, they would not mention sailing.
Wild Oats XI has smashed the Sydney to Hobart race record to claim line honours for the ninth time after a dramatic late comeback.
But the Australian supermaxi could face a time penalty, with second-placed LDV Comanche launching a protest over a near-collision just after the race’s start.
Wild Oats XI crossed the finish line in Hobart at 9.48pm on Wednesday, slashing almost five hours off the time set by Perpetual LOYAL last year.
Skippered by Mark Richards, it crossed the line in one day, eight hours, 48 minutes and 50 seconds.
Fuelled by a strong north-easterly, the yacht chipped away at LDV Comanche’s overnight 20 nautical mile advantage and caught up to the point where the pair were neck-and-neck down Tasmania’s east coast.
They were within a few hundred metres of each other heading into the River Derwent.
There, the lighter Wild Oats XI picked up a breeze to crawl into first place as her bigger and wider rival slowed to a near halt.
“I couldn’t bloody believe it,” Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said when asked about his reaction as the boat hit the front.
“The dream came true – the Derwent with no wind in it – and for the first time in the 13 years of us doing the Hobart race it became a very thankful sight.
“To get the opportunity at the end there to have another crack at it and to finish it off with a race record was unbelievably special.”
It’s the first win for Wild Oats XI since the passing of former owner and businessman Bob Oatley last year.
LDV Comanche, the 2015 line honours winner, finished 26 minutes and 34 seconds behind the leader.
Wild Oats XI, however, faces a potential penalty with LDV Comanche owner and skipper Jim Cooney confirming after the race he planned to lodge a formal protest.
The two supermaxis came perilously close to colliding about 15 minutes into the race on Boxing Day.
But Richards dismissed the near-miss, describing it as “totally innocent”.
“Getting these boats out of the harbour in one piece is a big deal,” he said.
“If that was a blatant infringement, we would have done our turns but it actually wasn’t.
“We did the right thing … and that’s all there is to it.”
Wild Oats XI retired from the past two Sydney to Hobart races due to mechanical issues but has now set the race record for the third time, smashing the previous mark of one day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds.