Big Boat thriller

Black Jack wins hard fought victory in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s SOLAS Big Boat Challenge.

Photography by Andrea Francolini / Jane Lizzie Evans

13 December 2017


Just 43 seconds separated near-sister ships Black Jack and Wild Oats XI in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour today, when the black Queensland boat, skippered by Mark Bradford, swooped across the finish line first at Fort Denison in a fresh north-easterly breeze.

The last time the two boats raced head-to-head on the Harbour was in 2009 when Black Jack raced as Alfa Romeo. That year, Alfa Romeo, then owned by Neville Crichton, went on to claim line honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. No doubt Peter Harburg is hoping this is the first chapter in a repeat of 2009, though he concedes it is early days.

“It is nicer to win than to come second, but a swallow doesn’t make a summer,” Harburg said. “These are two good boats and two very good crews. It comes down to the roll of the dice. They will come back stronger than ever in the next one, and the next one is the big one.”


Unusually, Wild Oats XI skipper, Mark Richards, renowned for starting at the pin end of the start line, began the race to windward of Black Jack. It looked as though Harburg’s boat had the upper hand, but when she tacked from the western side of the Harbour, she had to duck Wild Oats XI’s stern.

However, when the two met again on the same leg, mid Harbour, Black Jack’s tactician, Brad Butterworth called for a quick tack, wrong footing Richards, forcing him to tack away. This may well have been the turning point in the race.

“Every time we’ve raced against each other this year the boat that won the start won the race,” said Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford. “This is the first time a boat that had to pass behind in the first dip (crossing) has gone on to win the race.”

From this point on, Black Jack took control of the race, increasing her lead as the two headed to the Manly mark, leaving the 80 foot Beau Geste, helmed Gavin Brady close behind.

As to be expected, the smaller Reichel/Pugh 66, Wild Oats X, trailed the trio around the course, but the Troy Tindill skippered yacht stayed in close enough contact to win the race overall.

Aboard Wild Oats XI, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Princess Mary, in Australia for Christmas, seemed to be enjoying themselves, responding to cheers from spectators.

Mark Richards is a self-confessed perfectionist, so he probably was not having as much fun. After the race, he said there were a few little things they had to work on, but he declared, “There’s nothing major and I’m confident it will all be sorted by Boxing Day.”

Both Richards and Harburg are well aware of the threat posed by LDV Comanche (to be skippered by Neville Crichton) and Christian Beck’s InfoTrack, as all four yachts are previous line honours winners in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

In response to who he favoured to take line honours, Richards commented: “It will all depend on the conditions. If Comanche gets her conditions (reaching and running) we won’t know where she’s gone.”

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