Australian supermaxi yacht Perpetual Loyal sails through Sydney Harbour at the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race on December 26, 2016Australian supermaxi yacht Perpetual Loyal sails through Sydney Harbour at the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race on December 26, 2016 (AFP Photo/Peter Parks)
Sydney (AFP) - Australian supermaxi Perpetual Loyal smashed the Sydney to Hobart record by almost five hours to take line honours on Wednesday after "one hell of a race" that saw eight-time winner Wild Oats XI retire.
Loyal, long-time rival of favourite Wild Oats, put to bed its failure to finish the past two races when the 100-footer arrived at Hobart's Constitution Dock in a record time of 1 day 13hr 31min 20sec.
"This is one for the true believers," owner and skipper Anthony Bell told reporters at Hobart's Constitution Dock after powering to the finish line at 20 knots.
"I don't think anyone expected us to do well ... the bookies certainly didn't.
"We raced one hell of a race," he told reporters. "It's an awesome thing to break the race record."
Perpetual Loyal boat manager Brad Kellet told the organisers the supermaxi had pushed Wild Oats to its limits.
"Someone had to crack," he said. "That's not our weather, it's Wild Oats' weather, but we put ourselves in a great position, so that when Oats retired, we had enough of a lead over the V70s and Scallywag to win."
The new time for the 628-nautical-mile (1,163-kilometre) event was four hours and 51 minutes faster than the previous record of 1 day 18hr 23min 12sec set in 2012 by Wild Oats.
New Zealand's Volvo 70 Giacomo, which hopes to be crowned overall winner in the handicap honours for the vessel that performs best according to size, came in second with a time of 1 day 15hr 27min 5sec.
- Oats retires -
"It was a bit of a downwind race, so it suited us," said owner and winemaker Jim Delegat.
"Still, we're pretty surprised, it's not often that a 70-footer can do this, get second over the line."
Hong Kong businessman Seng Huang Lee's supermaxi Scallywag crossed the finish line about two minutes later, also easily beating the old record.
Loyal had benefited from favourable northeasterly winds that saw the fleet tear down Australia's east coast after departing Sydney Harbour on Monday.
The yacht was first into the open ocean but Wild Oats soon edged into the lead and looked well set to break its own record for the race.
But in a bitter blow, its hydraulic keel control mechanism failed in the middle of the Bass Strait.
Skipper Mark Richards made the call to retire on safety grounds on Tuesday morning. It was the second year in succession that Wild Oats had to pull out from the bluewater classic, with a mainsail rip thwarting her ambitions in 2015.
- Challenging race -
"It was sad to see them break," said Bell after his second win in the gruelling event, taking line honours in 2011 with Investec Loyal
"We were probably less than half a mile away from them when it happened. We saw the boat tilt right over and we saw them come to a sudden stop."
After radioing Wild Oats, Bell said he offered assistance and to stop racing if needed.
"Our first worry was that Oats might have lost a crew member overboard," he said. "The fortunate thing was no one got hurt."
Bell signalled his intent to move on after the record win, saying he "won't be back next year".
The rest of the 80-odd fleet were due in Hobart over the next day or two when handicap honours will be decided.
Last year's overall winner Balance, a 52-footer owned by Australian Paul Clitheroe, was running Giacomo close for a second successive handicap crown but had yet to finish.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore John Markos said this year's fast conditions "will make it a pretty hard record to break".
Storms are usually a regular hazard in the Sydney to Hobart, one of the world's most challenging races. Six men died, five boats sank and 55 sailors were rescued in 1998 when a deep depression hit the Tasman Sea.