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Luck of the Irish? Comanche Leads Sydney Hobart Race on Water, Ichi Ban Leads on Handicap

26th December 2017
A few hours of sailing like this soon put LDV Comanche clear into the lead on the water in the Sydney-Hobart Race A few hours of sailing like this soon put LDV Comanche clear into the lead on the water in the Sydney-Hobart Race

They say that winning a sailing race is a matter of making fewer mistakes than anyone else, and then knowing when to go for it writes W M Nixon. Fourteen hours into the contest, and the annual 628 mile Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race 2017 - the 73rd to be staged - has been giving us object lessons in knowing when to avoid trouble even if it means short term loss, and then putting the foot to the floor when the road is clear and straight.

When you’ve the biggest boat in the race, a mighty machine which only needs clear seas and a bit of real bite to the breeze to do a horizon job on everyone else, then you stay conservative when a messy start is shaping up in a crowded harbour.

Jim Cooney and his team on their magnificent monster LDV Comanche knew that once they got clear beyond Sydney Heads and into the freshening east to northeast breeze, then their powerful extra-beamy hundred foot machine would be in business. But the in-harbour starboard-tack start – admittedly in a lightish breeze – offered all sorts of opportunities to get into a tangle.

rshr course2The Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race may mostly be open water sailing, but the tricky bits at start and finish get much of the attention

So they elected to play it safe and use the less favoured pin end. Then, even though helmsman James Spithill was beginning to get the big boat up to speed, the acknowledged light air flyer of the hundred footers, Peter Harburg’s Black Jack (ex Alfa Romeo), simply rolled over them, and took the lead in the tacking procession towards open water.

That brief upwind tacking session was in lumpy seas and still
lightish breezes, which LDV Comanche doesn’t like at all, so although Mark Richards in command of the Oatley Family’s legendary hundred footer Wild Oats XI had made a hames of the start, he was sailing like a man possessed in conditions his boat enjoys.

As they approached the exit from Sydney Harbour, he looked to be about to cross LDV Comanche on port, although it would be nip and tuck. But in the end it was something which rhymes with nip and tuck, but isn’t, Richards had to throw a tack, and as the photo shows, there’s now a protest riding on it, as so far Wild Oats has admitted no intention of taking a 720.

wild oats comanche3One for the sea lawyers? Wild Oats on port tacking ahead of LDV Comanche on starboard

Getting clear of the harbour, Black Jack was first up with the big Code 0, and zoomed straight south down the coast, while Wild Oats XI favoured the time-honoured tactic of getting further offshore, meanwhile piling on the knots. But for a few horrible moments which seemed like hours, LDV Comanche was going nowhere with a sail ballooning in the water. But after that has been sorted, they were in business and then some.

Once she’d got ahead of the other two, with every mile sailed LDV Comanche lengthened even further away, as the very favourable winds were fresher to the south, and she was first to reach them. Hour after hour, she was logging 24, 25 knots and sometimes even better, while the others were around 22 to 23. After a while, that begins to show significant gaps, and as of writing time, she was all of 17 miles ahead of Wild Oats XI, while Black Jack had gone back to fourth as Christian Beck’s Infotrack (ex Perpetual Loyal, the course record holder), has found her speed to move into third.

Race tracker here

With speeds like this for the hundred footers, any talk of “settling into the race” scarcely makes sense – LDV Comanche is at Bass Strait, and they’ll soon be at the halfway stage while working out how those pesky Derwent night breezes are going to affect their finish.

But among the “real” boats in the middle of the fleet, there’s a genuine distance race contest shaping up, and the pace is being set by the TP 52s, where Gordon Maguire doesn’t seem to have put a foot wrong with the new Ichi Ban (Matt Allen). They’re leading overall on both IRC and ORC, and are six miles ahead of Quest, the next TP, and eight miles ahead of the third, Christopher Opielok’s Rockall.

A bit of a wild card in all this is the American former Volvo 70 Wizard (David & Peter Askew), which last year as the New Zealand Giocomo was overall winner, and at times has been on top of the leaderboard this year. Dublin-born Noel Drennan is in her crew, so we have another favoured boat.

Another option is Vincenzo Onorato’s Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino 32, currently lying 12th overall, and with Ian Moore as navigator, never out of the equation. As ever, the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race is just the job to shake us out of the post-Christmas torpor.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Afloat.ie Team

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The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is an annual offshore yacht racing event with an increasingly international exposure attracting super maxi yachts and entries from around tne world. It is hosted by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, starting in Sydney, New South Wales on Boxing Day and finishing in Hobart, Tasmania. The race distance is approximately 630 nautical miles (1,170 km).

The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - FAQs

The number of Sydney Hobart Yacht Races held by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia since 1945 is 75

6,257 completed the Sydney Hobart Yacht race, 1036 retired or were disqualified)

About 60,061 sailors have competed in the Sydney Hobart Race between 1945 and 2019

Largest fleets: 371 starters in the 50th race in 1994 (309 finished); 154 starters in 1987 (146 finished); 179 starters in 1985 (145 finished); 151 starters in 1984 (46 finished); 173 started in 1983 (128 finished); 159 started in 1981 (143 finished); 147 started in 1979 (142 finished); 157 started in 2019 (154 finished)

116 in 2004 (59 finished); 117 in 2014 (103 finished); 157 in 2019 (154 finished)

Nine starters in the inaugural Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in 1945

In 2015 and 2017 there were 27, including the 12 Clipper yachts (11 in 2017). In the record entry of 371 yachts in the 50th in 1994, there were 24 internationals

Rani, Captain John Illingworth RN (UK). Design: Barber 35’ cutter. Line and handicap winner

157 starters, 154 finishers (3 retirements)

IRC Overall: Ichi Ban, a TP52 owned by Matt Allen, NSW. Last year’s line honours winner: Comanche, Verdier Yacht Design and VPLP (FRA) owned by Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant, in 1 day 18 hours, 30 minutes, 24 seconds. Just 1hour 58min 32secs separated the five super maxis at the finish 

1 day 9 hours 15 minutes and 24 seconds, set in 2017 by LDV Comanche after Wild Oats XI was penalised one hour in port/starboard incident for a finish time of 1d 9h 48m 50s

The oldest ever sailor was Syd Fischer (88 years, 2015).

As a baby, Raud O'Brien did his first of some six Sydney Hobarts on his parent's Wraith of Odin (sic). As a veteran at three, Raud broke his arm when he fell off the companionway steps whilst feeding biscuits to the crew on watch Sophie Tasker sailed the 1978 race as a four-year-old on her father’s yacht Siska, which was not an official starter due to not meeting requirements of the CYCA. Sophie raced to Hobart in 1979, 1982 and 1983.

Quite a number of teenage boys and girls have sailed with their fathers and mothers, including Tasmanian Ken Gourlay’s 14-year-old son who sailed on Kismet in 1957. A 12-year-old boy, Travis Foley, sailed in the fatal 1998 race aboard Aspect Computing, which won PHS overall.

In 1978, the Brooker family sailed aboard their yacht Touchwood – parents Doug and Val and their children, Peter (13), Jacqueline (10), Kathryne (8) and Donald (6). Since 1999, the CYCA has set an age limit of 18 for competitors

Jane (‘Jenny’) Tate, from Hobart, sailed with her husband Horrie aboard Active in the 1946 Race, as did Dagmar O’Brien with her husband, Dr Brian (‘Mick’) O’Brien aboard Connella. Unfortunately, Connella was forced to retire in Bass Strait, but Active made it to the finish. The Jane Tate Memorial Trophy is presented each year to the first female skipper to finish the race

In 2019, Bill Barry-Cotter brought Katwinchar, built in 1904, back to the start line. She had competed with a previous owner in 1951. It is believed she is the oldest yacht to compete. According to CYCA life member and historian Alan Campbell, more than 31 yachts built before 1938 have competed in the race, including line honours winners Morna/Kurrewa IV (the same boat, renamed) and Astor, which were built in the 1920s.

Bruce Farr/Farr Yacht Design (NZL/USA) – can claim 20 overall wins from 1976 (with Piccolo) up to and including 2015 (with Balance)

Screw Loose (1979) – LOA 9.2m (30ft); Zeus II (1981) LOA 9.2m

TKlinger, NSW (1978) – LOA 8.23m (27ft)

Wild Oats XI (2012) – LOA 30.48m (100ft). Wild Oats XI had previously held the record in 2005 when she was 30m (98ft)

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