After incredible early drama in the iconic Sydney to Hobart yacht race, the race for line honours between the four leading supermaxis is set to come down to a tight finish.
The leaders are set to arrive past midnight after winds failed to pick up to the forecast 30-plus knots, with Andoo Comanche and LawConnect travelling at around 24 knots this evening.
Comanche held a consistent lead of 20 nautical miles throughout the afternoon as it moved towards the Derwent with LawConnect telling the Nine papers they expect to arrive at Constitution Dock in Hobart at around 2am AEDT.
As darkness neared, Wild Oats XI fell back into fourth having suffered sail damage overnight while reigning line honours winner Black Jack was third, some five nautical miles behind LawConnect.
But whoever finishes first may not end up victorious with widespread speculation some of the four leaders will protest following a drama-packed start at Sydney Harbour, with several near-collisions. Protest flags were being flown.
Comanche led the fleet into Bass Strait in the early morning, but slipping well behind LDV Comanche’s race record from 2017. Three of the four supermaxis (100-plus-footers) ran well east of the rhumbline to take advantage of marginally stronger winds, before turning back towards the coast of Tasmania around midday.
There were two retirements on the first day, with two-hander Avalanche the first to pull back to shore with a damaged bowsprit after a collision with Llama II just outside the Sydney Heads. Llama II escaped with only superficial damage.
Yeah Baby then retired in the evening after sustaining rudder damage near Wollongong due to a collision with a sunfish, but returned safely to Sydney.
Koa then became the third retirement after breaking her rudder, and is set to be towed to Eden on the NSW south coast, leaving 106 yachts still in the race. Enterprise Next Generation put in a request for redress after helping their stricken rival.
WILD OATS COPS DAMAGE OVERNIGHT
Hamilton Island Wild Oats came within 0.3 nautical miles of Black Jack around 2am overnight in the hunt for third position, before Black Jack surged in the early morning.
The pair traded positions throughout the day, with Wild Oats taking a line significantly closer to rhumbline.
It followed a wild start where both Comanche and Wild Oats were forced to take penalty turns following a series of near-misses in Sydney Harbour (more below).
Wild Oats – hunting a record tenth line honours win – then suffered damage to one of their two largest sails overnight.
Their veteran crewman Chris Links told NewsLocal a seam across one of their large downwind sails split, requiring running repairs on deck.
“It is not an easy job,’’ Links said.
“It has a cable in it and we had to do the repair on deck.
“It took around one and a half hours to repair.’’
Watch live on-board action from LawConnect below.
WILD START CAUSES CHAOS
“Protest, get the flag up, that was f***ing bull***t,” someone yelled on Andoo Comanche in the first two minutes after being cut off by rival supermaxis LawConnect and Black Jack.
URM and LawConnect were also “inches” away from crashing into each other, according to URM skipper Ashley-Jones.
Less than a minute later, one of the crew was heard barking: “you’re asking for a clusterf***, we’re going to be in a collision,” and labelled one rival a “f***ing idiot”.
Comanche hit a turning mark as it exited the heads and was later spotted flying a protest flag of their own, after another boat protested them.
On Wild Oats, which took two penalty turns, skipper Mark Richards could be heard yelling “furl, furl, we are going to do a 720 (penalty turn)”.
Wild Oats famously lost the win in 2017 upon arrival in Hobart, after being handed a one-hour penalty for a rule breach over an incident with Comanche.
That race saw the record time set, with 2022’s Comanche roughly eight nautical miles behind the 2017 edition’s pace late on Monday night and falling further back overnight.
EARLY RACE UPDATES AND PREVIEW (via AFP)
More than 100 yachts set sail Monday on the Sydney-Hobart race as favourable winds raised hopes for a record time in one of the world’s most punishing ocean events.
Fans gathered at coastal vantage points and on spectator boats in a sun-splashed Sydney Harbour, which hours earlier had been shrouded in a thick fog that halted all ferry traffic.
The starting cannon fired to release 109 yachts on the 628-nautical mile (1,200-kilometre) blue water classic.
Crews dashed to get out of the city’s harbour on the first leg of the race down Australia’s eastern coast and across the treacherous Bass Strait towards the finish line in the Tasmanian state capital.
A final weather briefing on race day predicted “fresh to strong” north to northeasterly winds in the next day or so, giving the fastest, 100-foot supermaxi yachts a chance to challenge Comanche’s 2017 record of one day, 9 hours, 15min and 24sec.
Mark Richards, skipper of nine-time line honours-winning supermaxi Wild Oats, said his crew was buoyant after preparing for exactly these conditions.
“We put all our eggs in one basket and we put all our money on black for a downwind forecast and we have ended up getting it,” he told public broadcaster ABC.
“I think Wild Oats is going to be very fast,” Richards added. “The world is going to find out who is the fastest boat downwind.”
Wild Oats is competing for line honours against three rival supermaxis: Andoo Comanche, last year’s line honours winner Black Jack, and LawConnect.
Weather is a critical factor in the race, which was first held in 1945. Though the supermaxis are expected to be powered by northerly winds to a quick finish as early as Tuesday, slower mid- to small-sized boats will still be in the water in the following days facing possible gales and changes in wind direction.
Comanche and Wild Oats to battle for win | 03:18
In 1998, when a deep depression exploded over the fleet in the Bass Strait, six men died, five boats sank and 55 sailors were rescued.
Black Jack took line honours last year after a tight tussle with LawConnect, ending years of frustrating near misses to cross the finish line on the River Derwent after two days, 12 hours, 37min and 17sec.
Ichi Ban, which is not racing this year, was the 2021 winner of the overall handicap prize, which takes into account the yachts’ sizes. The boat pipped rival Celestial in a race where dangerous waves and weather conditions saw many withdraw.
International boats are making a return after the race was cancelled in 2020 for the first time due to the pandemic, and Covid hit the fleet last year.
Entrants come from Germany (Orione), Hong Kong (Antipodes), Hungary (Cassiopeia 68), New Caledonia (Eye Candy and Poulpito), New Zealand (Caro), Britain (Sunrise) and the United States (Warrior Won).
Sunrise is a proven ocean racer, winning the 2021 Fastnet Race in Britain, while Caro has been tipped to take out overall handicap honours, although skipper Max Klink played down his prospects ahead of the race saying: “I do not think we are the favourite.”