The shark that ate Skandia

  • Racing
  • NEWS
  • By Jennifer Crooks
  • 28 Dec 2008 13:00:00
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Richard De Leyser, General Manager Rolex Australia, presenting skipper Mark Richards and owner Bob Oatley with the J H Illingworth trophy upon arriving at Constitution Dock

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In the end it seemed that everything had gone to plan. Before the race Wild Oats XI had been at unbackable odds to win line honours. The bar room drum was that all she had to do was show up to win. In reality, though, Wild Oats XI had to fight a determined Skandia from behind, and may owe her victory to a very battered and bruised shark.

1250HRS, 28 DECEMBER 2008

It seems a two metre shark has played a crucial role in the line honours outcome of the 64th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

At 9.34am this morning Wild Oats XI crossed the finish line, creating race history by being the first yacht to lead the fleet into Hobart for four consecutive years. 

Her time was 1 day 20 hours 34 minutes and 14 seconds, 1 hour and 54 minutes outside the record she set in 2005. But that didn’t worry an elated Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards one bit.

“When it’s your own record it doesn’t matter at all. We had one goal and that was to get here first. If you want to beat that record you want to smash it.”

In the end it seemed that everything had gone to plan.  Before the race Wild Oats XI had been at unbackable odds to win line honours.  The bar room drum was that all she had to do was show up to win.  In reality, though, Wild Oats XI had to fight a determined Skandia from behind, and may owe her victory to a very battered and bruised shark.

“We had a really tough race, and the first three quarters of it we were behind Skandia,” Richards said.

“There’s no question this was the toughest race by a country mile.  It doesn’t seem to get any easier,” tactician and helmsman Iain Murray conceded.  “This race was particularly hard on the crew.  A lot of variable winds and a lot of changing sails and a lot of decisions whether to go in or out,” he said. 

“We must have done 60 sail changes in the last 24 hours,” Richards said.

Expected to clear out from the fleet from the outset, Wild Oats XI instead appeared slow. 

“There were times when Skandia was just sailing away from us, which we hadn’t seen before.  We didn’t think we were sailing as fast as usual.  We didn’t achieve our target speeds and Skandia was sailing very well.  He (Grant Wharington, Skandia’s skipper) was sailing the shifts nicely and getting into the weather.

“When we left Sydney Heads we were pretty confident we got something wrapped around the keel,” Mark Richards said. 

“We couldn’t see it but the boat was sailing like an absolute dog for 24 hours.  We couldn’t get out of our own way.

“Then around 4pm on Saturday we wrapped a shark around our rudder.  We couldn’t get rid of it so we ended up backing off and going backwards to clear the shark. 

“All of a sudden Wild Oats XI was back to her old self and we took off.  We were going faster and within a half hour we were ahead of Skandia.”

Richards says that this single incident was the most instrumental factor in Wild Oats XI finishing first.  “Getting the thing off the keel.  It was as simple as that.  Yesterday before the shark they were eight miles in front of us and within two hours we were five miles in front of them.”

As the boats sailed down the Tasmanian coast the conditions also started to better suit Wild Oats XI

The strong 20 to 30 knot northerly winds of the first day began to lighten and become more variable. Both yachts sailed into holes and were totally becalmed. 

“We couldn’t steer the boat. We did loop the loops, headed back to Sydney for a while.  We had every sail up 40 times,” Iain Murray joked. 

“If the breeze had stayed 25 knots from the north we were struggling to catch them.  But we always knew that it was going to get tricky down here and in light winds we were always comfortable with the boat’s performance.  We have bigger light air sails.”

Skandia was really slippery in the conditions,” skipper Grant Wharington said of their fabulous day of match racing that put them ahead. 

“We were really focussed on the job we had to do, which was racing the fleet (for the handicap win). 

“Tactically we sailed a great race. We found we were faster than them in the fresh conditions.  But we hit two parking lots and they wrecked our race.” 

Wild Oats XI survived a serious challenge from Skandia to celebrate a famous victory. 

“It’s Bob Oatley and the whole Wild Oats team,” Richards declared.  “Without Bob none of us would be here and without all of us Bob wouldn’t be here.”

The proud owner said of his crew's win, "winning an America's Cup would be no greater than today's win".

“In hindsight we should have backed back earlier,” added Richards.  “It’s very hard.  When you’re travelling at high speed what do you do?  You keep second guessing yourself.  Thank god the Lord looked after us and put the shark in front of us and we backed down anyway.”

Bob Oatley, owner of Wild Oats XI, skipper Mark Richards accepting the JH Illingworth Trophy from Richard De Leyser, General Manager, Rolex Australia Image: ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

Bob Oatley, owner of Wild Oats XI, skipper Mark Richards accepting the JH Illingworth Trophy from Richard De Leyser, General Manager, Rolex Australia

Wild Oats XI at sunrise prior to taking her historic fourth consecutive line honours win Image: ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

Wild Oats XI at sunrise prior to taking her historic fourth consecutive line honours win

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