Black Jack beats Wild Oats XI to win Big Boat Challenge

Super maxi Black Jack made an early statement ahead of this year’s Sydney to Hobart, finishing 43 seconds clear of fierce rival Wild Oats XI to take line honours in Tuesday’s Big Boat Challenge.

Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards, who was joined in the crew by Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark, was quick to promise his boat would improve ahead of the 73rd ocean classic before taking a swipe at the lack of competitors in the only lead-up race on Sydney Harbour.

Just four boats contested the annual Big Boat Challenge, which raises money for the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) trusts, established after six competitors lost their lives in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart. There were eight starters in the race last year.

Beau Geste was third across the line while 66-footer Wild Oats X finished fourth, although it did win the Big Boat Challenge on handicap.

Of the other super maxis entered into the Sydney to Hobart, LDV Comanche didn’t contest Tuesday’s race because most of the crew is still in the United States, while InfoTrack, formerly Perpetual Loyal, was not yet ready to compete. But it was a conspicuous spectator as skipper Christian Beck took it out for a practice sail.

“This was a fundraising event for the SOLAS foundation, which is a big deal, a foundation that really supports us as sailors at sea more than any other foundation in the whole industry,” Richards said. “To be not supporting that I think’s a real shame.

“It’s the second biggest spectator boat fleet on the harbour apart from the Sydney to Hobart every year. A lot of people are interested in the race, a lot of people are out there giving to charity, there’s a lot of functions on before the event for charity, the positions on the boats raise a lot of money for the foundation, and to have a small fleet is pretty disappointing.

“We had a few issues on board. The Black Jack guys did a better job today and they got the result.

“I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Having mistakes on board isn’t great, I’ve forgotten them already.

“It’s the difference between crossing or not crossing that can be the boat race and that’s just the way it goes. We had a few too many little things today. That’s life. The guys know what the problems were, and we’ll be better tomorrow for it and away we go.”

Wild Oats XI hadn’t lost a Big Boat Challenge since 2009, when it was beaten by the same yacht, at the time under the guise of Alfa Romeo.

Alfa Romeo went on to win that year’s Sydney to Hobart before being sold to European interests. Peter Harburg bought the boat earlier this year and brought it back to with an eye to the Sydney to Hobart, but was quick to play down Tuesday’s mini-victory of Wild Oats XI.

“We finished in front of Ricko [Richards] but, until we did that last jibe across the line, we hadn’t won it,” Harburg said.

“They got so close at times. I think I saw the whites of his eyes.

“It’s a lot nicer to win than come second and we’re very pleased with that. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, that doesn’t really prove anything. We know these guys are going to come back stronger than ever.

“Wild Oats has ruled the waves here for so many years now and it’s so good to be able to come and compete with them. We’re very happy with the performance, very happy with what the guys have done with the boat and very happy with the crew.”

The two yachts have clashed several times already this year. Wild Oats XI enjoyed a narrow win in the Sydney Gold Coast race, before Black Jack took line honours in the Cabbage Tree Island race.

Both boats won a race apiece last weekend in the CYCA Trophy Series.

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