NSW supermaxi Perpetual LOYAL has stormed across the Sydney to Hobart finish to take out line honours, smashing the previous race record by nearly five hours.
Under the cloak of darkness, Perpetual LOYAL crossed the line off Hobart at 2:31am, breaking the race record by 4 hours, 51 minutes and 52 seconds.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to do well in this race, the bookies certainly didn’t,” skipper Anthony Bell told waiting media and well-wishers.
Bell, who has previously beaten Wild Oats XI in 2011 in his yacht Loyal, paid tribute to his 2016 team.
“This is one of the most amazing groups of people on the planet in my view,” he said.
[These are] some of the best sailors … to go to war with and some of the best mates a guy could have.
Bell said his crew always thought they would do well in the race and the lead up to the event was a really important part.
“You shouldn’t write us off too quickly and we came out of the blocks and we raced one hell of a race,” Bell said.
But he quashed any hopes of him returning to defend his 2016 title, saying he had “something new and hot” to do with sailing but dodging further questions on his future.
Bell was then given the traditional dunking of the winner in the chilly waters of Hobart’s River Derwent.
New Zealand’s Giacomo and Hong Kong supermaxi Scallywag cruised in to join LOYAL in Hobart, with the majority of the fleet tracking down Tasmania’s east coast to the finish line.
New Zealand’s Beau Geste and New South Wales yacht Maserati were the next crews expected
Perpetual LOYAL is on track to smash the Sydney to Hobart race record after eight-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI was forced to retire.
Ironically, Wilds Oats XI was itself leading the race and on track to break its own race record from 2012 before it pulled out due to hydraulic problems.
That paved the way for Perpetual LOYAL to take the race lead, and as of Tuesday evening, to be on course to set a new record.
Perpetual LOYAL is expected to cross the finish line in Hobart sometime early on Wednesday morning between 12am and 2am.
Given the leading boat only needs to reach the finish line before 7.23am on Wednesday to beat the race record of one day ,18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set by Wild Oats in 2012, the mark look set to be smashed.
“The wind is forecast to stay into the river and I think it will actually carry forward and bring them home very early in the morning,” Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore John Markos said of the lead pack.
“The Derwent usually shuts down but tonight it’s forecast to be having a fair bit of breeze from the northeast.”
Meantime the crew of Wild Oats XI were left rueing what could have been after it pulled out of the race on Tuesday morning.
Wild Oats XI pulled out of the race in 2015 due to sail damage. Capping off a tragic year for the yacht’s connections, its owner Bob Oatley passed away in early 2016.
While the exact repairs the yacht needed are yet to be determined, the crew “centred and stabilised the keel” allowing Wild Oats XI to sail back into shore as race officials explained the intricacies of the fault.
“Approaching the northeast coast of Flinders Island in eastern Bass Strait, she suffered damage to the hydraulic ram that adjusts the angle of the canting, or swinging, keel beneath the hull,” a race spokesman said.
“The keel counteracts the weight of the wind on the sails, enabling the boat to remain more upright. It also reduces leeway, the distance the boats veers from its compass course.”
In a year of such “perfect” conditions, the withdrawal is all the more bitter for Wild Oats XI.
“I’m not aware of these sort of conditions ever in the history of the race, the way it’s been set up,” Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore John Markos said.
Skippered by Anthony Bell, Perpetual LOYAL has her own share of bad luck in recent Sydney to Hobarts, forced to retire from the last two races.
She has a lead of 21 nautical miles over Giacomo, with another Volvo 70 Masersati, a further nine miles behind. Giacomo’s sailing master Steve Cotton said the boat is picking up in winds reaching 24 knots.
“We’ve got an ETA to Tasman Island of 2am and of course we will really slow up in the Derwent River so it could be something like 5am,” Cotton said of his finish-line prediction.
From the starting pack of 88 there are 84 yachts still racing, following withdrawals due to damage.
– with AAP