Comanche leads the charge

Jim Clark's new maxi leads the Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet out of Sydney Harbour

Friday December 26th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: Australia

Jim and Kirsty Clark's brand new 100ft maxi Comanche led the Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet out of Sydney Harbour in one of the most spectacular, high speed starts in the race’s history. With 117 starters, this, the 70th edition of the race, represents the largest sized fleet since 1994.

At the 1300 local time start, the 15-18 knot southeasterly was made to order for the big red and black hulled reaching machine and after crossing the line slightly ahead and to leeward of Wild Oats XI, Comanche swiftly unfurled her giant spinnaker and took off, quickly ‘rolling the Oats’, causing skipper Mark Richards to exclaim from the wheel of Wild Oats XI “She’s smoking – look at that thing go.”

Shortly before the start, Comanche skipper Ken Read said: “We couldn’t be more ready at this stage. The team has done a Herculean effort to get the boat ready. We are psyched about the weather forecast; a bit of reaching across the Bass Strait. It looks like a nice sail boat racing day. It will get breezy, lumpy but if our boat can’t handle 25 knots then something is wrong. It’s the end of the race which looks difficult, light. We are here to compete, it’s the fun part of our job.”

As they raced down the harbour, Comanche, skippered by Ken Read, steadily widened the gap. In around five minutes she rounded the first mark with Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI more than 30 seconds behind her, followed by Syd Fischer’s newly-rehulled Ragamuffin 100 and Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal.

But then the sleigh ride was over, down came the spinnakers, as Wild Oats XI and Ragamuffin quickly reefed their giant mainsails, while Comanche just kept going as the frontrunners began to beat their way out to the offshore mark in a lumpy, uncomfortable sea that was fast being churned into full washing machine mode as the spectator boats cluttered around them.

With their sails hardened up, Wild Oats XI hung onto Comanche’s coattails as they clawed their way to the mark. Just ten minutes into the race, the American maxi the yellow buoy. There are no records, but unofficially no boat has left Sydney Harbour faster in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 628 mile race.

The two leading boats continued to beat out to sea, as did third placed Ragamuffin 100, but startlingly, Perpetual Loyal tacked around the mark and charged through the spectator fleet towards the cliffs at South Head, tacking again under the Macquarie Lighthouse to head offshore in slightly cleaner water as most of the spectator fleet followed Comanche and Wild Oats XI.

Next out to sea were the V70s Blackjack and Giacomo, already engaged in a fierce one on one duel that will not end until the reach Hobart, followed by Manouch Moshayedi’s Rio 100.

And behind them the remainder of this 117 strong fleet paraded between the Heads in a remarkably tight line, every single boat enjoying this amazingly swift start. Well placed were Ichi Ban, OneSails Racing and last year’s winner, Victoire. And one of the big unknown quantities in this race, the Botin 65 racer/cruiser Caro which also has shown a very good turn of speed.

Even Sean Langman’s 82-year-old gaffer Maluka of Kermandie, the oldest and smallest boat in the fleet, had rounded the first mark inside 30 minutes - an unheard of time for the little 9m long veteran that may, or then again may not, arrive in Hobart in time for New Year.

Sadly, not long after the start, two yachts were forced to retire: Tina of Melbourne with hull damage and Bear Necessity with a damaged rudder. Both are returning to Sydney.





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