Wild Oats XI wins 7th Sydney to Hobart

The Associated Press

HOBART, Australia (AP) -- Defending champion Wild Oats XI took line honors in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race for a record-equaling seventh time, winning by more than 30 nautical miles Saturday.

Wild Oats, skippered by Mark Richards and owned by billionaire wine mogul Bob Oatley, who is head of the Australian syndicate challenging for the next America's Cup, crossed the finish line in the 628-nautical-mile race in 2 days, 6 hours, 7 minutes.

Thousands on the Hobart waterfront for the island capital's holiday season festivals cheered on the crew of 20, who have a combined 250 Sydney to Hobart races between them.

Wild Oats set the race record last year when it finished in 1 day, 18 hours, but light winds this year left that mark well out of reach.

The other yacht to win seven Hobart races was Morna/Kurrewa IV, the first time in 1946 and the last in 1960.

Oatley said at the finish line at Constitution Dock that fluctuating weather conditions left his boat's line honor chances in doubt.

''(We were) worried until we got across the line today because it is such a difficult race,'' the 86-year-old Oatley 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.''

He said the crew will be back to attempt to make it eight wins next year.

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

Anthony Bell's Perpetual Loyal, which led for some of the first 24 hours of the race, finished second, more than three hours behind after having been 33 nautical miles back when Wild Oats crossed. Ragamuffin 100 was third, and by daylight Sunday eight yachts had finished.

Still to be determined was the winner on handicap.

The back of the fleet - mostly smaller yachts - was hit by southwesterly gale-force winds in Bass Strait overnight Saturday, with one yacht, Wedgetail, dismasted.

Race officials said two yachts lost their rudders in the storm - Luna Sea and the leading British Clipper 70 yacht, Henri Lloyd, bringing to eight the number of retirements in the original 94-yacht fleet that left Sydney Harbour on Thursday.

No other details were available about the dismasting, other than all on board were safe, race officials said.

In 1998, six sailors died and five yachts sank in a storm that hit the fleet early in the race.

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