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Wild Oats XI wins Sydney to Hobart honors

SYDNEY--Supermaxi Wild Oats XI won a record-equaling seventh Sydney to Hobart race on Saturday, coming in well ahead of her nearest rival as she stormed across the finish line.

The bigger yachts had struggled with the uncharacteristic lack of breeze in the early stages of the 628 nautical mile ocean race, and Wild Oats XI's time of two days, was well short of her 2012 course record.

Wild Oats XI billionaire owner Bob Oatley told reporters at Constitution Dock he was initially worried his boat, skippered by Mark Richards, would not win.

“(We were) worried until we got across the line today because it is such a difficult race you. You never know how it's going to happen,” the 86-year-old said.

“We lost the lead the first night out with difficult weather conditions. Then we were happy to pick it up again and improve on it which we have done all day.”

Hundreds of people lined the docks at Hobart's Constitution Dock to welcome the eight-year-old boat which is affectionately known by its crew as the 'Swiss Army knife' because of the number of appendages she boasts.

It was its seventh line honors victory for Wild Oats XI which also crossed the line first every year from 2005 to 2008 and in 2010 and 2012.

It equals the performance of the boat named Morna and later Kurrewa IV which last won the race in 1960.

Last year Wild Oats XI it bagged a historic second triple crown in crossing the line first and winning the overall handicap, as well as setting a new record time of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.

As Wild Oats XI crossed the line on Saturday, its nearest rival was fellow supermaxi Perpetual Loyal about 30 nautical miles behind, followed by Ragamuffin 100 a further 10-plus nautical miles behind.

Wild Oats XI had led a thrilling neck and neck race out of Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day but was overtaken by Perpetual Loyal on the first night, only to stage a dramatic comeback on Friday to snatch back the lead.

The boat outpaced the rest of the 91-strong fleet all the way to Hobart, gaining pace as she neared the end, and Oatley said she would remain a contender in future years.

“We've got a great future, more wins. It's beautiful, it's wonderfully built,” he said.

With winds picking up, most of the mid-sized boats in the fleet are expected to cross the Bass Strait Saturday before forecast gale force winds come through in the evening. However, the smaller and slower boats will bear the brunt of expected rough weather as they make their crossing in subsequent hours.

Organisers expect that the winds will carry through the notoriously variable final stages of the race, when boats often battle maddeningly calm conditions up the Derwent River to Hobart's Constitution Dock.

So far only three boats have retired from this year's race — Audi Sunshine Coast, Dodo and Wilparina — reducing the field to 91.

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This handout image released by regattanews.com of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race event and taken by Daniel Forster on Saturday, Dec. 28 shows Wild Oats XI sailing on the approach to the finish line. Supermaxi Wild Oats XI looked set to take line honors for a seventh time in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race after stretching its lead over rival Perpetual Loyal. (AFP)

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