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After Protest, Australian Yacht Comanche Takes 1st Place in Sydney to Hobart Race


LDV Comanche, right, trails Wild Oats XI as they enter open water during the start of the Sydney Hobart yacht race in Sydney, Dec. 26, 2017.

Wild Oats XI took the line honors (first place) in the 630-nautical-mile (1,167 kilometer) yacht race from Sydney to Hobart, finishing in a record time of one day, eight hours and 48 minutes, which smashed the previous record of one day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds.

However, second-place finisher LDV Comanche, which had led for much of the race, protested what it called a near-collision between the two super-maxi yachts on the River Derwent.

Comanche, which finished 26 minutes after Wild Oats XI, was eventually awarded line honors after an international jury on Thursday upheld their protest and imposed a one-hour penalty on Wild Oats XI.

“Wild Oats XI had to keep clear, failed to keep clear while tacking, Oats did not do turn,” race organizers said, according to a Reuters report about a tack completed by the yacht.

Ruling deemed 'fair'

Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said he and the crew accepted the ruling and the penalty, and Comanche skipper-owner Jim Cooney said it was “fair.”

A Chinese yacht taking part in the race — a crew from Shanghai and the first team of sailors from mainland China to compete in the famous race — finished 21st out of 102 vessels.

The De Rucci finished Thursday in two days, 35 minutes and 26 seconds. With an average age of 24, the crew onboard the yacht included professional athletes and former members of China’s special forces.

They had been in Sydney training and competing for weeks in preparation for the race to Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania.

The 73rd running of the race began Tuesday.

Some of the smaller boats enter open water during the start of the Sydney Hobart yacht race Sydney, Dec. 26, 2017.
Some of the smaller boats enter open water during the start of the Sydney Hobart yacht race Sydney, Dec. 26, 2017.

Money, motivation needed

Britain, the Netherlands and Australia dominated sailing at the Rio Olympics. But China, which won a silver medal, has lofty ambitions in a sport that requires money and motivation, De Rucci’s Australian coach, Ben Morrison-Jack, said.

“You could probably draw some comparisons, maybe, with some other sports that they have taken on,” Morrison-Jack said. “There is always a timeline and sailing is a complex sport, so it will take a while, but if they are committed to it, they’ll win medals eventually. That is for sure. It is crucial to the sport because it is not that big a sport, really, and to have a population of China starting to get interested in the sport is fantastic.”

Sailing is riding a wave of popularity in China, Dong Qing, skipper of the De Rucci, said before the race.

“Chinese people are becoming richer and richer,” he said. “Now more and more people can afford to buy a boat.”

Long-term ambitions

His crew members have been competing against some of the world’s best ocean-racing yachts in preparation for the arduous dash from Sydney to Hobart. They might be relative newcomers, but they have long-term ambitions to win major races, he said.

“I do not think it is possible for now because we have just started,” the skipper said, “but I think all of us as Chinese we have this dream of winning in big sailing competitions one day.”

Fate hasn’t been kind to the sailors from Shanghai. A collision with a rival boat knocked them out at the start of the 2015 Sydney-to-Hobart race. Last year, a broken mast saw them limp to the finish line.

However, they have made history. The crew from Noah’s Yacht Club in Shanghai was the first team from mainland China to compete in the famous Australia race. It will also take its place in the Australian Yachting Championships in Melbourne in January.

The team will soon head home in time for Chinese New Year.

Phil Mercer in Sydney contributed to this report.