The competition for line honours in this race was one of the closest in its 67 year history with the two Australian maxis gunning for each other from the moment the canon was fired on Sydney Harbour on Monday afternoon. Wild Oats XI led until 20:00 local time (09:00 UTC) on Tuesday when they were becalmed.
"They [Investec Loyal's crew] were keeping track of how we were doing and the moment we stopped under a cloud with no wind under it, they basically sailed right around the outside of this large hole we were stuck in and came back above us. It was good work on their part," described Wild Oats XI's co-navigator, Ian Burns.
Fortunately the wind filled in soon after for Wild Oats XI and they were able to resume the fight and, from this point on, the event became truly a gloves-off match race between the two 100 footers.
Finally this morning at 07:30 local time, Wild Oats XI regained the lead. With rarely more than two miles separating the two boats, it was not until Wild Oats XI was becalmed again just short of Tasman Island and the entrance to Storm Bay, that Investec Loyal managed once more to skirt around the wind hole. This time they took up residence directly ahead of their opponent and from that point, despite the best efforts of the Wild Oats XI crew led by Mark Richards, Investec Loyal was not going to be passed.
Much to the delight of spectators thickly lining Hobart's Constitution Dock, the two ocean racing giants came into sight up the Derwent River, but it was Investec Loyal and her crew, including sports stars, such as Australian rugby union internationals Phil Kearns and Phil Waugh, which was first home. They arrived at 19:14:18 local time, their elapsed time for the course being 2 days 6 hours 14 minutes and 18 seconds.
"It was one of the great experiences in my life," said Anthony Bell, Investec Loyal's owner and skipper with a beaming smile. "The whole thing from the very start, right through to the finish line was exhilarating. It was a really tough fought out race, but the crew believed in the boat and the cause right from the start and we are so happy to have got past the finish line first."
Michael Coxon, tactician on Investec Loyal shared his thoughts on their win: "It has a very competent professional crew and a great owner who does it all for the right reasons. It is like a fairy tale - a boat that supports charity. This boat raised Aus$ 1 million this year for charity. That is the way it should happen. I am very happy for Anthony Bell. We sail with people who have never gone sailing before and they did a really good job."
In what was principally a tactical victory for the older Investec Loyal, Coxon paid tribute to their American navigator. "The difference is a gentleman called Stan Honey," he said. "He is an absolute legend - just amazing. His knowledge of weather and weather routing and the information he provides to me...at the end of the day he is just so good."
Investec Loyal - provision winner at this stage
However at present Investec Loyal's line honours victory in the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart is provisional. The event's Race Committee, led by Tim Cox, is protesting Anthony Bell's boat over a believed infringement of Racing Rule of Sailing 41 entitled 'Outside Help'. This involved the audio recording of a conversation that took place at 06:30 local time on 27th December between the pilot of an ABC TV station helicopter and an Investec Loyal crewman seeking information on the sail plan in use on Wild Oats XI - in particular whether she was flying a trisail. "This is assessed to breach Rule 41 by soliciting help from an outside source," explained Garry Linacre, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, organiser of the Rolex Sydney Hobart.
The case is to be heard by the race's international jury at 10:00 local time 29 December.
Gracious in defeat
On board second placed Wild Oats XI, skipper Mark Richards was categorical about the outcome. "Those guys won on the water and we came second. That's all there is to it. They did a great job those guys and they deserve the win."
Richards added that he thought it had been a fantastic race. "We had to work our butts off until the end and we came in second. That's the way it is. They sailed very well. We were very unlucky in a few situations, but those guys did a great job and when it came to the crunch. Their boat was little bit quicker than us downwind in the lighter air and they just managed to keep their nose in front and got to the line first."
The next two boats expected to arrive in Hobart at around 01:00 on Thursday morning are Peter Millard and John Honan's maxi Lahana and Stephen Ainsworth's Reichel Pugh 63, Loki.
The race for the Tattersall's Cup, for handicap honours under IRC, remains wide open with Michael Hiatt's Farr 55 Living Doll ahead earlier this evening, but with Australian sailing legend, 84 year-old Syd Fischer and his modified TP52 Ragamuffin having taken the lead under IRC at the time of writing.
Official race website: www.rolexsydneyhobart.com