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Yacht race: Wild Oats XI wins Sydney to Hobart line honors

In this photo provided by Rolex/Studio Borlenghi, the 85-strong fleet of yachts begins the Sydney Hobart yacht race from Sydney Harbor, on Dec. 26, 2018. (Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex/Studio Borlenghi via AP)

HOBART, Australia (AP) -- Wild Oats XI won the 74th Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Friday, claiming line honors for the ninth time.

    The Mark Richards-skippered super maxi crossed the line in Hobart shortly after 8 a.m. local time (2100 GMT Thursday) after taking the lead from defending line honors champion Comanche before sunrise.

    The win came after Wild Oats XI was stripped of line honors in last year's race, with a rule breach and time penalty handing victory to Comanche.

    Three other super maxis followed Wild Oats XI into Constitution Dock in Hobart. Black Jack was second, about 28 minutes behind, followed by Comanche in third and Infotrack fourth.

    The yacht Alive was fifth and Wild Oats X sixth, finishing nearly seven hours after the winners. Wild Oats X had the race's first all-female crew, skippered by Australian Stacey Jackson but with sailors from Britain, New Zealand, the U.S. and the Netherlands.

    There was some controversy later Friday when the owner of Black Jack said that the electronic tracker aboard Wild Oats XI was not working, or had been turned off.

    Peter Harburg said Wild Oats XI's Automatic Identification System (AIS) was off towards the end of the race. Wild Oats navigator Juan Vila told local media that he had turned the AIS on and believed the system had been on for the entire race, which could point to a malfunction.

    However, Harburg said Black Jack was left disadvantaged because they didn't know where Wilds Oats XI was sailing.

    "The rules say it's got to be on all the time," he said. "They knew where we were all the time, so that has disadvantaged us and Comanche and we are very disappointed in that."

    Harburg, however, did not intend to lodge a protest but believes the Sydney to Hobart race committee should look into it. Boats have up to six hours after finishing to lodge an official protest.

    As Comanche led the group of four down the Tasmanian east coast overnight, Wild Oats XI took a more easterly track, swinging in and sailing past the challengers before sunrise. The move paid off, with the super maxi swinging in and taking the lead as the yachts prepared to round Tasman Island.

    In a post on the team's Facebook page, Wild Oats XI said it had been a "tough few years for us," with the team's hopes dashed by early retirements in 2015 and 2016, and the death of yacht owner Bob Oatley in 2016.

    "What a win. We've done it ... never before in the 74-year history of this race have four maxis battled it out like this throughout the race and in the Derwent," the team said.

    "It's a day of redemption for us that's for sure. We're so happy with the result," Richards said. "We basically sailed around the opposition and got ourselves into a position where the breeze filled in from the southwest -- this morning we were in the right spot," Richards said.

    This year's fleet in the 628-nautical mile race was reduced to 80 yachts from the starting 85.

    Comanche, skippered by Jim Cooney, set the race record of 1 day, 9 hours, 15 minutes, 24 seconds while winning last year.

    Wild Oats XI's time on Friday was 1 day, 19 hours, 11 minutes, 14 seconds.

    This year marked the 20th anniversary of the 1998 race where six sailors died after the fleet was hit by a large storm.

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