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As indicated yesterday here, Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban with Howth Yacht Club's Gordon Maguire onboard has been confirmed as the overall winner of the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart.

With 28 races under his belt, this is the culmination of a quest to claim the top prize at one of the world’s most revered sporting occasions by one of Australia’s stalwarts of the sport of sailing. The coincidence of a new boat and a forecast that encouraged the 50-footers, made Ichi Ban one of the pre-race favourites. That should not in any way diminish the scale of this achievement. Ichi Ban needed to sail a near perfect race to beat their immediate opposition, both on the water and on handicap.

Victory was celebrated at the dockside prize giving, where Allen and his crew received the coveted Rolex timepiece and Tattersall Cup as just reward for the persistence, courage and skill exhibited throughout the race. For Allen, the moment was not without emotion. A winner of the race back in 1983, as crew on Challenge II, this is his first taste of success as an owner and skipper. Allen has come close before, including last year when the Derwent arguably robbed him and his crew.

“Winning this race is a dream for us all,” said a grinning Allen, who detailed their preparations. “We built a fast TP52 hull, strengthening and waterproofing it for offshore racing and the rigorous conditions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. We took the rig from our old boat, incorporated the latest technology and combined it with the most amazing crew I have ever sailed with.”

Over the years, Allen and his crewmates have become accustomed to the vagaries of the race, its ability to punish weakness and to be selective with luck. “We had to push the boat all the time,” he explained. “You are not going to win this race without pushing and the crew did just the most incredible effort, from the judgment calls by Gordon Maguire and Will Oxley to the guys driving the boat. The crew left nothing on the table, they worked for each other and were inspirational.”

The race was not without issues. Sails were damaged and bodies bruised in the hard, downwind driving conditions of the second day. There was an alarming, fortunately brief, park up on the Derwent. Sailing Master, Gordon Maguire, on his 17th race was quick to recognize the crew’s contribution: “It was not the boat that won us the race and it wasn’t good fortune. We won it through sheer hard work and effort.”

Races can often be won and lost by decisions over when to press and when to pull back. In Ichi Ban’s case, there was little of the latter. There was no room. The usual caution to protect equipment and people was put to one side in a calculated throw of the dice. “It was everything or nothing,” according to Maguire, who has won the race twice before. “There was no point in not pushing 110% on the 27 December, because that was where the race would be decided. A point came where we said ‘stuff it’, forget the sails, just keep going. If it breaks we are out, if we don’t push we are out.”

Navigator, Will Oxley, also emphasised the critical significance of the human component in this race: “We’ve learnt a lot over the years and invested effort in making sure things function in all conditions. That allowed us to get the information we needed to make the correct decisions. But in this race, the most important element was the guys on deck, driving the boat and trimming. Those guys really won us this race.”

Bob Steel, the two-time winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, whose boat Quest posed the biggest threat to Ichi Ban, eventually finishing second overall, confirmed the importance of people: “The downhill conditions suited our boat, but it was hard work. You had to concentrate 24/7. It was physically very challenging. The guys on the winches grinding the spinnaker and the main in and out needed rotating every 10, 15 minutes to avoid complete exhaustion.”

The threat to the boat in such conditions can be severe, as Steel agreed: “As every puff comes through, you risk being knocked down and your race being over. You can completely wipe a boat out accidentally gybing at 30 knots.”

John Markos, Commodore of race organizer the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, expressed the club’s delight at Matt Allen’s success: “Wins like this are career pinnacles. They reflect the effort that people put into their sport. Matt’s engagement in sailing and this race is total. As an administrator, he is on the board of the CYCA and is a past Commodore; he is President of Australian Sailing and is on the board of the Australian Olympic Committee. This is his 28th race; it has been a long time coming and we couldn’t be happier.”

Both Oxley and Maguire have raced around the world, and continue to compete at the highest level. They are professional yachtsmen held in high regard by their peers. When they speak, it is with measure and certainty; hardened sailors they may be, but they take pride in their work and this win clearly means a lot.

Maguire commented “Winning this race is a life experience. To do so once is amazing. The second time, it doesn’t diminish. Each race is so individual. The battle to win the trophy becomes its own entity and each medal has its own story, its own memories. This will probably be my most memorable because everyone on the boat wanted it so much. There wasn’t a quitter among us. Everyone backed everyone.”

“This is the first time I’ve won this race on handicap,” advised Oxley, whose experience as a navigator spans close to 40 years. “As an Australian, this is the biggest race you can win. I’ve done five round the world races, but the first question people ask you in Australia, when they know you are a sailor, is whether you’ve done the Rolex Sydney Hobart and how many. In that respect, this is certainly the biggest win of my career.”

Passion and determination go hand in hand in any form of success. Both are required to overcome the hurdles, the disappointments and frustrations. If Allen’s result this year is anything it is a sporting lesson: “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. The Rolex Sydney Hobart – it’s the premier event – everyone follows it and knows the winners of this race. I did my first in 1980 at the age of 17 and I’ve been planning this race since about 2001. It’s been a long-held passion to win it.” And now he has.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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A time penalty of one hour. That is the punishment meted out today by the International Protest Committee to Mark Richards and the hundred footer Wild Oats XI for the near-collision with Jim Cooney’s LDV Comanche in a port-and-starboard incident on Tuesday afternoon 15 minutes into the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race 2017. The means that LDV Comanche is now the official Line Honours Winner writes W M Nixon. 

With boats this size, any impact is dangerous. The full-blown collision which was narrowly avoided by Comanche’s swift action thereby averted the very real danger of the high-tension carbon fibre hulls exploding in lethal splinters. Thus Cooney and his team felt they had to go ahead with their protest in the interests of safety as much as sportsmanship, and the very definite nature of the penalty means that the Protest Committee emphatically agreed with them.

comanche protestWild Oats tacks in front of Comanche, a maneouvre later penalised by the protest jury

Scroll along the timeline on the vid below to 20 minutes to see County Cork bowman Justin Slattery on Comanche signal the incident that led to Wild Oats losing line honours victory.

The orginal Line Honour top two placings are thus reversed, with LDV Comanche officially recorded as first to finish on 1 day 9 hours 15 minutes and 24 seconds, and Wild Oats 33 minutes astern on 1 day 9 hours 48 minutes and 50 seconds, but still nearly two hours clear of the third placed Black Jack (Peter Harburg).

Listen to Cooney talk to the media in the ABC newsclip after his Hobart protest victory here

In the equally important – some would say more important – handicap placings, the TP 52 Ichi Ban (Matt Allen), with Ireland’s Gordon Maguire as Sailing Master, is now firmly in first overall. But there has been a welcome up-grading for other Irish sailors, with the American-owned Volvo 70 Wizard, whose crew includes Noel Drennan, now officially fourth overall and first in Class 0, while the Italian Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino 32, navigated by Ian Moore, has moved up 5th overall and second in Class 0, just 11 minutes behind Wizard.

In classes still racing though now with no chance of challenging the overall winners, the First 40 Ariel with Emmet Kerin of Limerick in the crew is currently third in Class 3 with 112 miles to race, while the veteran China Easyway with Tom Dolan from County Meath on board is currently fourth in IRC Class 4 and third in ORC Class 4.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Gordon Maguire, originally of Howth Yacht Club but now well established as a leading figure in Australian sailing, looks set to be confirmed for his third overall win in the annual Rolex Sydney Hobart Race this (Thursday) morning writes W M Nixon

Although most of the fleet still had to finish, as Sailing Master aboard Matt Allen’s new TP 52 Ichi Ban, Maguire had the satisfaction of hearing his skills praised as a primary factor in a fine win after a very hard-fought race.

While they were the leading TP 52 from an early stage, sail damage hampered their progress. And then this morning as they came into the final flukey stages in the Derwent River with a good margin in hand, a local calm patch had them parked for 20 minutes within sight of the line.

But they got going again and in the end their elapsed time of 1 day 19 hours and 10 minutes proved to be a course record for a boat with a non-canting keel and no water ballast, despite being only a 52-footer.

As for their corrected time of 2 days 12 hours and 13 minutes, this gave them a clear margin of 21 minutes on the next in line, another TP 52, the much-fancied Quest (Paul Clitheroe & Bob Steel).

Other sailors of Irish interest who have come in within the top ten include Dublin-born Noel Drennan aboard the American Volvo 70 Wizard, who can expect to be at least sixth overall and possibly better, and top navigator Ian Moore on the Italian Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino 32, currently rated eighth overall but again with a chance to rise in the rankings if boats still at sea are slowed back.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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If sailing has a more exquisite form of torture than the final miles of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, then we don’t really want to know about it writes W M Nixon. Having experienced proper offshore sailing southward since clearing Sydney Heads, you reach Tasman Island off Tasmania’s east coast, and then shape your coast west and then northwest into the increasingly narrow Derwent Estuary and the very urban finish line right on the Hobart waterfront.

The change in sailing conditions can be so total as to be disorienting. Yesterday, fleet leaders LDV Comanche (Jim Cooney) and Wild Oats XI (the Oatley Family, skippered by Mark Richards) came scorching down Tasmania’s east coast, sometimes doing better than 30 knots, which is quite something even when you’re on a hundred footer.

Comanche was leading, and leading well, for in a big breeze she’s the flying saucer. But when the winds fall light, she’s the fat lady that doesn’t sing, whereas the hyper-skinny Wild Oats can hang in there when the going is heavy, and when it goes light, she’s the fastest girl in town.

wild oats chasing comanche2The skinny girl chasing the fat lady – Wild Oats closing in on Comanche in the approaches to Hobart

Thus for a while they were actually trading places, but with less than ten miles to go to the finish and the sun setting, there wasn’t enough wind to go round, and Wild Oats got ahead and stayed ahead. Thus although they were only slightly more than a mile apart coming to the finish, LDV Comanche’s torture was such that this translated into a gap of 28 minutes.

There is of course a protest hanging on the incident 15 minutes after the start, when Wild Oats was forced to tack from port when very close indeed to LDV Comanche on starboard. But as with all protests, it may not turn out to be quite as simple as it appears from some of the photos. And anyway, had the wind only had the common decency to hold up enough to keep LDV Comanche on the pace, it might all be forgotten.

Meanwhile, Irish interest can alight in many other parts of the fleet still racing, as Gordon Maguire skippering the TP 52 Ichi Ban, and Ian Moore navigating on the Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino 32, are a close first and third overall. Ichi Ban has 48 miles to sail, while the lower-rated Mascalzone has 74. But they won’t be easy miles, for in less than an hour, Ichi Ban will be shaping her course round Tasman Island and entering the Torture Zone.

ldv in derwent3Gasping for it. Once the wind falls below a certain level, LDV Comanche seems glued to the water as she glides towards the finish line

The race has been going so quickly that we’re still getting info about the Irish who are involved. So let’s hear it for Dr Emmet Kerin of Limerick, who sails out of Kilrush on the family’s First 36.7 Zallaq, but is doing the sprint to Hobart for the second time on the Beneteau First 40 Ariel (Ron Forster). They were third in IRC Division 3 last year, currently they’re second and they’re also first in ORCi-Div 4, so there could be celebration on Shannonside very soon.

Dublin-born Noel Drennan on the Volvo 70 Wizard, doing his 32nd Sydney-Hobart, has just 2.5 miles to go to the finish, but with a speed of 3.9 knots that finish line is still a tricky place to reach, though Wizard looks like taking second place in Class 0. Offaly-born Adrienne Cahalane, navigating the mega-classic Dorade of 1931-vintage for Matt Brooks, is on her 26th Hobart Race, and still has 303 miles to go, but must be in line for some sorts of classics prize.

As for Mini-Transat sailor Tom Dolan, he’s doing the race with some Chinese and Australian shipmates on the very veteran Jarkan 12.5 China Easyway, but as they currently lie 3rd in IRC Div 4, it looks as if this golden oldie is doing the business. This gallant boat won the IMS Division in 1991 when she was new and Gordon Maguire was new on the Australian scene and won the Hobart Race overall with Atara, so it looks like a case of what goes round comes round.

Race tracker here

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Crossing the line 26 minutes after Wild Oats XI, LDV Comanche will take the provisional line honours winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race to the protest room. Jim Cooney told Mark Richards: “Yes, I’m going to pursue it.” “OK, no worries, mate, no problem,” Richards said.

Later, Cooney explained the incident shortly after the start.

“It was a port/starboard infringement. We were the right-of-way boat: they were the give-way boat.

“We hailed starboard; they were the give-way boat and they left it until far too late to tack and they tacked right in our water. We had to take evasive action or possibly take both of us out of the race.

“We could have taken their backstay out; they could have broken our bowsprit.”

He said a few minutes in the race could have made all the difference.

The protest will be heard by an international jury in the next two days.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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The notoriously light and flukey night sailing conditions of the Derwent River in the final stages of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race are frustrating what has been an otherwise textbook performance by Jim Cooney's super-maxi LDV Comanche writes W M Nixon at 1000 hrs Wednesday December 27th.

Having led the rival Wild Oats XI (Oatley family) ever since clearing the entrance to Sydney Harbour in an often strong favourable breeze which saw both boats topping 30 knots at times, LDV Comanche’s much beamier hull has been at a disadvantage in the gentler going in the long sheltered approaches to the finish, whereas the extra-slim Wild Oats has been making ground all the time, and accelerating more quickly when a favourable puff of wind arrives.

Now with darkness coming on at 9.10 pm local time, Wild Oats has just 5.5 miles to sail and has accelerated to 9.5knot, while LDV Comanche has 6.3 miles to sail and is recording 8.2 knots. In the rest of the fleet Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban with Gordon Maguire as sailing master continues to lead the TP 52s on the water, but at the moment is lying fourth overall on IRC with 152 miles still to race.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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In the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the two leading supermaxis LDV Comanche (skippered by Irish–Australian skipper Jim Cooney with Cork's Justin Slattery as bowman) and Wild Oats XI are heading to a race record finish in the Derwent tonight.

They are each sailing down the Tasmanian east coast at 20-30 knots before a strong north-easterly wind, LDV Comanche 11 miles ahead of the eight-time winner.

The computer prediction shows a finish for both after 7pm tonight, though that could extend to the later evening once they turn at Tasman Island and tackle Storm Bay and the river. The good news is that the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a continuing north-easterly in the river tonight, which, while not from a favourable direction, at least represents continuing wind.

To break Perpetual Loyal's 2016 race record of one day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds, the first boat must be in before 0231 tomorrow.

Should LDV Comanche maintain her lead, it could render irrelevant her protest against Wild Oats XI for a tacking incident between the two shortly after the race start in Sydney. Oats had the opportunity to complete a 720-degree penalty but chose not to, indicating she feels she did nothing wrong.

Therefore, with a penalty of a minimum five minutes at stake, if Wild Oats XI crosses first, the line honours result could depend on the outcome of an international jury hearing in Hobart of the Comanche protest.

Wild Oats XI had managed to close the gap during the morning despite ripping the top out of the headsail most suited to the conditions. Skipper Mark Richards reported that the yacht had sailed "bare-headed" - mainsail only - for some time while the remnants of the damaged sail were recovered and a new sail set.

Corrected time honours are between the next wave in the fleet, with Matt Allen's new TP52 Ichi Ban ahead of last year's winner, the Volvo 70 Giacomo, now sailing as Wizard under its new American owners, Peter and David Askew.

The fleet stands at 101, with one retirement, the German TP52 Rockall, which suffered a broken rudder south of Eden this morning, The NSW Water Police boat Falcon was due to rendezvous with Rockall late this morning and is likely to take her in tow and head back to Eden, a slow passage that could take about five hours or more.

Bruce Montgomery (

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Irish sailors (as previewed by here) are in the mix today as grey skies could not diminish Sydney’s enthusiasm for the start of its seminal ocean race. Crowds flocked to the foreshore and the Heads, while an assortment of vessels filled the harbour as the 102-boat Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet set off on the great adventure south. Peter Harburg’s 100-foot Black Jack led the length of the harbour and out into the open sea, hotly pursued by LDV Comanche under Irish Australian skipper Jim Cooney and Wild Oats XI.

Starting at 13.00 local time in 5-7 knots of easterly breeze it was a slow glide out of the harbour rather than the furious pace of recent years. Once out into the Tasman Sea the wind built slightly to 8-10 knots and backed a little to the north opening the angle and allowing yachts to hoist reaching headsails.

The sedate start caught fire as the leading yachts approached the ocean turning mark. Wild Oats XI, on port, appeared to tack on top of LDV Comanche, on starboard, in a move more reminiscent of an inshore regatta rather than a 628nm bluewater race. The message was clear. No quarter will be given in the clash of the titans engaged in the dash to be first to finish. Comanche protested the manoeuvre of Wild Oats XI; the outcome will not be known until after the finish.

Leaving aside this altercation, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, John Markos, reflected that: “we’re thrilled the fleet got away and that the spectacle lingered longer than usual because of the light airs. The leaders were engaged from the off, which was exciting to watch, and the rest of the fleet came through pretty well. It will be really interesting to see how this race unfolds down the coast.”

The forecast is for the winds to build steadily as the afternoon draws on and turn further to the north east. An increase in the wind speed will be a relief to the crews who had to endure a sloppy, uncomfortable sea state as they began their march to Hobart.

Ahead of the off, excitement was palpable right through the fleet. Tom Addis, the navigator of Black Jack, was looking forward to the start buoyed by a forecast which would favour his yacht in the early stages: “It looks like another fast race, although more downwind with more pressure, so big spinnakers and having to gybe. It’s a real boat speed race; tactically we don’t have any real major transitions to get through, any ridges to cross or a front to set up for. It’s going to come down to the crew that can move the fastest."

Joseph Mele, skipper of the Cookson 50 Triple Lindy from the USA, is taking part in his second race, although this time on a new boat: “I think this is the most exciting day in yachting in the world. Personally, I’m balancing excitement of the known with the uncertainty of the unknown. Overall, though, we are feeling pretty good. We’ve added some experienced hands to last year’s crew. Knowledge of the race with Brad Kellett with 25 races to his name and knowledge of the boat with Ed Cesare, the navigator of Privateer, the Cookson 50, which finished second in this year’s Rolex Fastnet.”

Taking part in one’s first Rolex Sydney Hobart can be daunting even for the most experienced of sailors. Italian Flavio Favini, a multiple world champion, has made the journey to be with Mascalzone Latino: “The Rolex Sydney Hobart is a mythical race, one of the most important in the world. We are very happy to be here and able to take part. For me, it is great to add this race to my career. The weather forecast looks good for our boat, but we’ll have to see how it really is!”

For Conrad Humphreys from the United Kingdom, sailing on Hollywood Boulevard, 2017 marks his third race, but with a hiatus of several years since the last: “It’s fantastic to be back. To have a forecast as good as this is a dream. To do well, we need to sail well. What’s going to make the difference is really good crew work, really good helming. Sailing low, fast and in a good mode will be key. It’s going to be about two days, so not much sleep!”

As the fleet power south into the first night, any pre-race nerves will have soon given way to the thrill of participating in one of the world’s great ocean races. Crews will be settling into the rhythm that best suits their boat, the conditions and their ambitions. From front to back tactical decisions will need to be taken and pressure maintained, especially if the effort and determination exerted over the next few days is to be converted into success.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Ireland has a direct connection to the fastest and most modern super–maxi yacht in the world, thanks to its new owner Jim Cooney, a fourth generation Australian of County Meath descent. 

Cooney, who hails from the town of Ballivor in Meath, and still has family members in the town, races on St. Stephen's Day in his eighth Sydney-Hobart race, and is already tipped for debut success in the mighty 100–foot LDV Comanche. 

Cooney, a renewable energy entrepreneur, added the spectacular super maxi to his impressive Sydney Harbour fleet when he purchased the boat from American owner Jim Clark this month. 

'This campaign is Irish from bow to stern. You've got me at the back and Justin [Slattery] at the front'. Cooney told dockside in Sydney.

Cooney, who has lined up a who's who of the world's best sailors to crew the yacht has among his team Cork's Slattery, a double Volvo Ocean Race Winner. 

'LDV Comanche is a truly awe-inspiring yacht, and the chance to race to Hobart, alongside my children Julia and James with a world class crew, is a once in a lifetime opportunity too good to pass up. I started ocean racing 30 years ago and we have raced as a family in many parts of the world for 12 years, but this is an incredible opportunity for us to challenge for the world’s toughest blue water classic,” says Cooney, who finished sixth on line in last year’s race at the helm of his Volvo 70 ‘Maserati’ and campaigned his iconic maxi Brindabella for seven years before that.

ldv comanche3The Super Maxi LDV Comanche has been dubbed an ‘air-craft carrier’– her new Irish Australian owner does not rule out bringing her to Ireland to race in 2019 or 2020

Tuesday's race will be no walk in the park for the fastest boat in the fleet, however, not least navigating the 100-footer out of a congested Sydney harbour in thefirst few minutes of the 600–miler with rivals jostling for every advantage.

For the first time in the race's history, the fleet contains four super maxis making the stakes for Cooney even higher. 

“This year competition is fierce, with the strongest line up of super maxis ever seen in one race. Depending on conditions, any of the 100 footers could take line honours, it threatens to be one of the best races in the history of the event,” Cooney told

Immediate sailing plans for Comanche include more regattas on the Australian East coast but a northern hemisphere campaign may be in the pipeline for 2019, a Fastnet Race year. It's early days, but Cooney told he would not rule out a future Round Ireland Yacht Race bid either.

Read: WM Nixon's Sydney-Hobart Preview here

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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It is one of the world’s classic offshore races. And its timing plumb in the middle of the Christmas holidays make it an essential safety valve for serious sailors being smothered in festive cheer in the Northern Hemisphere. For although it’s only 630–miles long, the annual Sydney-Hobart Race has everything, from its colourful in-port start on Tuesday in one of the most spectacularly beautiful harbours in the world, to a course which takes the fleet southward into colder climes, with every mile sailed bringing them nearer to the mighty challenge of the Southern ocean and its foretaste in the Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. W M Nixon looks at the prospects for the top Irish sailors in 2017’s edition of the annual dash to Hobart.

With just a couple of days to go to the start, the weather forecast for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2017 could scarcely be more benign, particularly when it’s set against the recollections of the many times that this battle southwards has developed into a crew-bruising, boat-breaking slugathon.

In fact, as California’s legendary Stan Honey, the navigator on the hundred foot line honours favourite LDV Comanche has pithily puts it, any change in the forecast can only be a disimprovement for those seeking easy sailing. The Bureau for Meteorology’s New South Wales specialist predicts that the race will start in a moderate sou’easter which will soon back into a favourable nor’easter which will blow the fleet swiftly all the way down to Tasmania.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Course Map Photo by Rolex KPMSThe 630 mile Sydney-Hobart course is straightforward until you start trying to get up to the finish line at Hobart in the Derwent River

Problem is, once you get to Tasmania, the long haul up the narrowing Derwent River to the sacrosanct finish line on the Hobart waterfront has the leaders trying to race in light or nonexistent winds which can bear little resemblance to the prevailing conditions out at sea. This is particularly so at night, when it’s said the Derwent is an old lady who likes to go to sleep at 10.0pm, and not really waken up until 10.0 am.

Thus the super-maxi LDV Comanche – which Jim and Kirsty Clark have sold to Irish-ancestored Australian international engineer Jim Cooney – is facing the crazy scenario of gradually pulling away from the three other hundred footers as the rising wind gives her wider hull extra power and speed, yet then the predicted time of arrival would have her coming into the Derwent just as the power goes out of the local breeze.

It would be frustration in spades, as LDV Comanche has the speed when the breeze blows. She showed this on July 20th 2015 when, as still just plain Comanche and in a Transatlantic blast under the command of the great Kenny Read, she’d a 24-hour run of 618 miles, an average of 25.75 miles which still stands as the Mono-Hull 24-Hour Record.

ldv comanche3The world’s fastest mono-hull ocean racer, the 100ft Comanche, is now LDV Comanche, and owned since December 14th by Irish-ancestored Australian Jim Cooney. Among those sailing with him in the race to Hobart will be Justin Slattery

Jim Cooney is doing his eighth Hobart Race, and though the familiarisation period with his newly-acquired giant is brief, he is maintaining as much crew continuity as possible with such noted talents as Stan Honey as navigator, while Jimmy Spithill is also on the strength. And if LDV Comanche does get to the line first, it will be an Irishman who’s first across, as the hugely experienced Justin Slattery is aboard as bow-man.

In the generally-predicted weather scenario, in theory it should be possible - from a fleet of 105 boats - to pick a boat size and type which will tend to be closing in to the mouth of the Derwent towards 10.00 am, with every prospect of carrying a good afternoon breeze all the way to the finish and a near-certainty of victory.

And there’s a view that the TP 52 fits the slot better than most. This has sorted boat selection problems for Australian Sailing President Matt Allen and his longtime Sailing Master Gordon Maguire, who won his first Hobart Race sailing for Ireland in 1991, and has since become Australian himself.

Normally, the Allen-Maguire team would be debating whether to race their Carkeek 62 Ichi Ban, or their TP 52, also called Ichi Ban. As usual, both were entered at an early stage on the understanding that only one would race, depending on expected conditions nearer the start time.

But for 2017, Matt Allen has a brand new Botin-designed TP 52, and this latest Ichi Ban is the hottest thing on the coast, wellnigh unbeatable. So when in recent days the weather numbers began to favour the TP 52s, it became a no-brainer.

However, it puts Gordon Maguire in the uncomfortable position of being one of the pre-race overall favourites. Already, other TP52 skippers are calming their own supporters’ high hopes by suggesting that the expected nor’easter may actually become too fresh for the TP52s to give of their best.

Either way, it’s a burden to be the favourite. But Maguire has broad shoulders, and as someone who has often been on the Hobart podium and has already won overall twice, he’ll take it all in his stride.

And if it should pan out that boats of another size and type are favoured, Irish sailing has other options to claim vicarious success. For instance, it could be yet another race in which the enduring Cookson 50 hits the target. We’ll, we’ve one of the best out there in the form of Italian Vincenzo Onorato’s Mascalzone Latino 32, the overall winner of the 2016 Middle Sea Race.

mascalzone latino4The Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino is the Hobart Race’s strongest European challenger. She is seen here at the start of the Hong Kong-Vietnam Race in October

mascalzone latino crew5Navigator/tactician Ian Moore (centre second row) in the midst of Mascalzone Latino’s jubilant crew after their clear win in the Vietnam Race

Although their navigator, Ian Moore of Cowes and Carrickfergus, has already sailed 3 Sydney-Hobarts (and done well in all of them), most of the rest of the crew are Hobart virgins. So they had to do the Hong Kong to Vietnam Race back in October as a qualifier, and won it going away after recording a speed burst of 30-knots plus.

Even for a Cookson 50, that is is going some, but with Ian Moore being in a uniquely experienced position as the navigator/tactician who has been down the course three times before, watching Mascalzone Latino’s performance is going to be fascinating.

We think of Australia as an ancient place geologically, yet inhabited by people who are into novelty. But they’ve as much respect for classic yachts as the rest of us, and the 2017 Hobart Race has two very special Sparkman & Stephens yawls, Dorade from 1931 (when she won the Fastnet Race, and did it again in 1933), and the 72ft Kialoa II which started life as a sloop in 1963, but was a yawl by the time the great Jim Kilroy brought her to Australia to race to Hobart in 1971, and in a rugged windward bash, he took line honours.

kialoa11 as yawl6Kialoa II as she was when she raced to Ireland in 1969 for the Quarter Millennial Celebration of the Royal Cork Yacht Club

Now owned by the Broughton brothers and beautifully restored, Kialoa II became an Irish favourite when she did the Transatlantic Race to Cork in 1969 as part of the Royal Cork’s Quarter Millenial Celebrations. Jim Kilroy had strong family links to the southern city, and Kialoa II did the business by wining her class and placing second overall to Ted Turner’s 12 Metre American Eagle.

As for Dorade, since her restoration by Matt Brooks and Pam Rorke Levy, she has re-sailed many of the classics, but this will be her first Sydney-Hobart. And it will be very special for Irish-born navigator Adrienne Cahalane. Last year, she became the first woman to have raced 25 Sydney-Hobarts. This year, with the 87-year-old Dorade, she is calling the shots on one of the most special boats in offshore racing, a boat which is both historical and yet still a potent performer today.

dorade sailing7The 87-year-old Olin Stephens-designed classic Dorade, navigated by Irish-born Adrienne Cahalane, will be doing her first Sydney-Hobart Race, while for Adriennne, it’s her 26th.

The final major linkup between Ireland and next Tuesday’s big race is, to say the least, unusual. We last took our leave of Mini Transat solo hero Tom Dolan after he had emerged undamaged from a pitchpole two days from the finish of the Gran Canaria-Martinique second leg of the Mini Transat 2017, and went on to finish fifth in Leg 2 and sixth overall out of 54 boats in the two part race, far and away the highest placing ever obtained by an Irish skipper.

Those of you who followed the Dolan story closely on will be aware that Tom also runs an Offshore Racing Academy at Concarneau, and the Chinese sailing authorities selected him to coach two of their more promising trainees. He found that while they were brilliant with instrument work, they lacked a seat-of-the-pants sense of sailing, and he recommended they get as much sea time as possible.

One way they’re doing this is through the Sydney-Hobart Race, where they’ve linked up with Australian skipper Travis Read and his veteran Jarkan 12.5, which has become China Easyway. One of Tom’s students, Wei Hua Pan, has already done the race twice, his mate J Lui has done it once, and now they’ve persuaded Tom to join them on December 26th for his first Sydney-Hobart.

tom dolan8Tom Dolan as he is used to sailing – on his own, on IRL 910

China easyway9This is how things will be for Tom Dolan next week – the only Irishman in an Australian-Chinese crew of ten on the veteran Jarkan 12.5 China Easyway

With the enormous potential of Chinese sailing, he’s intrigued by it all, and not least with the notion of sailing with ten people, when for years he’s mostly had only his own company out on the ocean. So although we’ll be homing in on LDV Comanche and Ichi Ban and Mascalzone Latino and Dorade as the race tracker gets going on December 26th, it’ll be interesting to see how China Easyway is shaping up too

Published in W M Nixon
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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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