Early drama as Sydney to Hobart fleet race to break record

AFP
The large boats benefited from the light east to south-easterly winds as they sped out of the harbor in the spectacular Boxing Day launch to the event.
AFP

Supermaxi LDV Comanche led the fancied big boats as the grueling Sydney to Hobart race began on Tuesday, after a close call that saw the yacht almost collide with rival Wild Oats XI.

Another supermaxi, Black Jack, had led the fleet out of Sydney Harbour, with the vessels chasing a new race record amid "dream" conditions in the annual dash down Australia's east coast.

Four 100-footer supermaxis are among the 102 entries in the 73rd edition of the 628-nautical mile (1,163-kilometer) bluewater classic, viewed as one of the toughest yacht races in the world.

The large boats benefited from the light east to south-easterly winds as they sped out of the harbor in the spectacular Boxing Day launch to the event.

Black Jack was followed by Wild Oats and Comanche, with the pair sparking early drama after almost colliding.

The Mark Richards-skippered Wild Oats appeared to tack too close to its rival near the exit to Sydney Heads. Comanche, helmed by Jim Cooney, is set to lodge a formal protest.

Under the race rules, it must be filed within six hours of the finishing time of the protesting boat.

The Race Committee, within six hours of receiving the complaint, will then arrange a time and place for the hearing.

Comanche took over the lead as the vessels tracked down the coast of New South Wales state, ahead of Wild Oats and super-yacht InfoTrack, with Black Jack behind them.

Wild Oats tactician Iain Murray told reporters before the start of the race that "in all my 24 times of going down here, it's never been as good as this".

"It's very rare that you get this continually off-the-wind, cross-the-wind, wind start-to-finish sort of scenario. It's something we all dream about, really."

Reuters

From left: Yachts InfoTrack, LDV Comanche and Wild Oats XI compete at the start of the annual 630 nautical miles (1,166 kilometers) Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race on Sydney Harbour on December 26, 2017.

Murray said that because the super-yachts could reach speeds of up to 20 knots, a new line honors record for the fastest vessel could be possible.

"The numbers suggest a race record is easily achievable for, I think, any of the maxi boats," he added.

"These boats are capable of 20 knots. The current record is 17 something. It's just getting around the corners is the hard part."

InfoTrack, named Perpetual Loyal last year, arrived at Hobart's Constitution Dock in a record time of 1 day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds to take the 2016 line honors title.

A big unknown will be the conditions on the Derwent in Hobart, a fickle river that could offer up windless holes which can halt a boat for hours.

The super maxis were expected to arrive at Storm Bay late on Wednesday afternoon, and head into the Derwent leading to Constitution Dock at night.

"We're looking forward to some terrific sailing," said Comanche navigator Stan Honey.

"The dicey part happens after Tasman Island... we get to the Derwent at the worst time."

This is the strongest line-up of supermaxis to contest the Sydney to Hobart, with all four having won line honors in previous races.

Eight-time winner Wild Oats is hoping for another success after being forced to retire from the last two races.

The forecast continues to favor the medium-sized 45 to 55-foot boats, as well as the Oatley family's smaller entry Wild Oats X in the race for the Tattersall Cup.

The Cup is a handicap honor for the vessel that performs best according to size.

This year's race — which draws spectators on land and in boats in Sydney — has also attracted a record-equalling 27 internationals, including from China, France, the United States and Italy.

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