Comanche storms into early lead at Sydney to Hobart race

Challenging conditions force out four competitors in opening hours
Comanche races out of Sydney Harbour into the Tasman Sea at the start of the Sydney to Hobart race on December 26, 2014. Jason Reed / Reuters
Comanche races out of Sydney Harbour into the Tasman Sea at the start of the Sydney to Hobart race on December 26, 2014. Jason Reed / Reuters

SYDNEY // Newcomer Comanche was off to a fast start in Australia’s 70th Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Friday, blitzing all rivals, including seven-times line honours winner Wild Oats XI, in Sydney Harbour.

The 100-foot Comanche was ahead of Wild Oats, also a supermaxi, to the first mark as 117 yachts set off on the 628-nautical-mile endurance race down Australia’s east coast in scorching summer conditions.

With the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House as a backdrop and thousands of spectators on boats and harbourside vantage points, the yachts enjoyed a 15- to 18-knot south-easterly breeze, which helped them off in what is thought to be a record start.

The yachts have turned south towards Hobart into a stiff southerly, which is testing boats and sailors with uncomfortable seas. Four boats had retired in the first few hours, including one with hull damage and another with a damaged rudder.

“It’s very rough, sailing upwind in 25 to 27 knots of wind and pounding hard into short, steep waves,” said Peter Isler from on-board RIO 100, one of five supermaxis in the race, the biggest and fastest boats in the event.

“It’s like riding a bucking bronco. These are boat-breaking conditions, though we expect the wind to ease by midnight. Until then, though, we will hang on and keep pushing.”

Among the retirements was the competitive Tina of Melbourne.

“We were trucking along nicely, just settling into the race. The sea was very confused, though, and we fell off a wave,” skipper Andy Doolan said.

As the boats turned south into the rough conditions, Comanche was part of a leading group that included fellow supermaxis Perpetual Loyal, Ragamuffin 100 and Wild Oats XI.

“We’re ready,” said Ken Read, skipper of the wide-bodied and cutting-edge Comanche, which is owned by Netscape co-founder Jim Clark and his model wife Kristy, shortly before the start of the race.

“To me, it looks like a nice sailboat racing day. A little breezy, a little lumpy, but if our boat can’t handle 25 knots and a little bit of bump, then something’s wrong.”

Weather conditions are crucial for the Sydney to Hobart, where boats can experience everything from towering waves and gale force winds to calm conditions in which they struggle to move at all.

“We hate the light stuff and certainly like the heavier stuff,” said Anthony Bell, skipper of Perpetual Loyal.

The 70th Sydney to Hobart blue-water classic has drawn its biggest fleet since 1994 with 117 yachts, including 10 international entries.

The international contingent comes from New Zealand, the Cayman Islands, Britain, Poland, Germany and the United States.

Given the weather conditions, officials are not confident that the record for line honours, set by Wild Oats XI in 2012, of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds will be broken in this year’s race.

“Going into a southerly on the first day is always a challenge, especially for the big boats,” Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said this week.

“We’re going twice the speed of the smaller boats in those conditions, so it’s a real challenge to keep the big boats in one piece.”

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Published: December 26, 2014 04:00 AM


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