Black Jack takes the honours at last in Sydney to Hobart race

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The Sydney to Hobart yacht race is one of the most challenging ocean events in the world (AFP/DAVID GRAY)
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  • Jack Brabham
    Australian racing driver

Supermaxi Black Jack won the prestigious Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Tuesday ending years of frustrating near misses.

Owned by Australian Peter Harburg and skippered by Mark Bradford, Black Jack took line honours after a tight tussle with LawConnect on the River Derwent after two days 12 hours 37min and 17sec of racing.

For Harburg it was his first win in the race after several times falling short and comes in a boat named after Australian Formula One legend and three-time world champion Jack Brabham, who was also a friend of his.

Harburg's decision to stay on shore for the first time and not be on the boat -- which he bought ahead of the 2017 race -- paid off handsomely.

Indeed Harburg had been on board when it finished second (2018), third (2017) and fifth (2019) -- the latter occasion it led before being overtaken by four other boats.

"Mark said he was confident from the start. I was confident when that [finish] cannon went off," said Harburg.

“We will both be in tears anytime … It's the grand prize of yachting in Australia. It's the first time I've been involved in the winning team."

It is the second time the boat itself has won the race having triumphed in 2009 under the name of Alfa Romeo when powned by Neville Crichton -- Harburg subsequently bought it and changed the name.

The crew celebrated with hugs and pats on the backs before undergoing Covid-19 tests and then finally set foot on dry land.

Bradford said the win was rich consolation after so many years of trying and missing out.

"We've had five, six years in a row now and we've finished first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh," he said.

It was one of the slowest Sydney to Hobart races ever with harsh conditions forcing withdrawals due to damage or minor crew injuries.

On Tuesday morning, Black Jack had regained a six nautical mile lead on LawConnect.

Weather is critical in the 628-nautical-mile (1,200-km) race down Australia's east coast to Hobart, one of the world's most challenging ocean events.

Six men died, five boats sank, and 55 sailors were rescued during the 1998 event when a deep depression exploded over the fleet in the Bass Strait.

But this year, organisers also faced the trials of a global pandemic, which already nixed last year's edition -- cancelling the event for the first time since it began in 1945.

Several yachts were also unable to compete because of Covid-19, including favourites Comanche and Wild Oats XI.

Before the start, four yachts were forced to retire, leaving 88 entrants at the starting line, including 17 two-handed crafts, which are allowed to take part for the first time.

It was a sharp reduction from the 157 boats that set out in 2019.

Though the first yacht to reach the finishing line grabs most public attention, the main prize for sailors is regarded as the handicap honours, which take account of the size of the yachts.

That detail matters not a jot to Bradford who was looking forward to the celebrations.

"If you come to the Customs House (hotel) later you'll see how that's done. Unorthodox I would say,” said Bradford.

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