Sydney Hobart: Comanche takes line honours

Published on December 28th, 2015

Sydney, Australia (December 28, 2015) – When Comanche crossed the finish line of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race at Castray Esplanade in Hobart, Tasmania, at 9:58:30 hours tonight, history was created, because Kristy Clark became the first female owner to take line honours in the blue water classic.

Kristy, who raced aboard the yacht while co-owner husband Jim stayed ashore, was thrilled to take line honours in her first foray into the race. While the yacht represents the New York Yacht Club in the USA, Kristy is of course, Australian through-and-through.

Jim was on the water to greet the Ken Read skippered Verdier Yacht Design and VPLP yacht as it made its way up the Derwent River to the finish line.

It is the first time, possibly with the exception of the early years, that a boat has retired, her crew sail 30 odd nautical miles back towards Sydney, before deciding to continue on racing and go on to win.

And the locals loved it. As Comanche zigzagged close to shore, trying to find pressure on the River Derwent, at Blackman’s Bay lights were being flashed on and off from hundreds of houses and those in cars at Blackmans Bay Beach flashed their lights on and off, making an unforgettable impression against the last light of the day.

But it was at the dock, where Comanche arrived, that one of the largest crowds in living memory had gathered. There was not a square inch to be had around the piers and wharfs surrounding Hobart where thousands cheered the American victory

Comanche’s finish was impeded by the breeze which came and went at whim as the yacht rounded the Iron Pot. At one stage she was powering at 15 knots, then down to 8.5 knots. Her finish time of two days eight hours 58 minutes 30 seconds was outside the record of 1 day 18 hours 23 minutes 12 seconds set by Wild Oats XI in 2012.

But it did not matter. The last American to take line honours in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s race was Larry Ellison’s Sayonara, 17 years ago in the fatal 1998 race, so Comanche’s efforts was quite some achievement, even if their quest of beating Wild Oats XI was not to be.

However, the Oatley family and Wild Oats XI skipper, Mark Richards, were watching back home in Sydney and sent a congratulatory letter to Jim Clark.

Comanche’s highlights to this moment include:
First overall (Elapsed Time division). Voiles St Barts
First overall elapsed, Storm Trysail Block Island Race
Elapsed time record, Storm Trysail Block Island Race
First overall handicap class and fleet, Storm Trysail Block Island Race
First overall elapsed, Rolex Transatlantic Race
24 Hour Monohull Distance Record, 618 miles
First overall elapsed, Rolex Fastnet Race
First overall (Elapsed Time Class), Rolex Maxi Worlds

“This is a hard race. I have sailed around the world two and a half times and I thought I had seen it all but this is one hard body of water” was how Comanche’s skipper Ken Read summed it up dockside after bringing his wounded supermaxi across the line tonight. One of the most extraordinary line-honours triumphs in the history of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. “This is a hard race. You guys have a hard race here. The people who have done this race 25 times, God bless them, they are the hardest people on Earth or the dumbest people on Earth, probably a combination of the two.”

This was a moment of supreme elation, joy and relief for Read and Comanche’s owners, Jim and Kristy Clark. Relief because Comanche could so easily not have made it to Hobart at all. It had all come so terribly unstuck on that first night of the race, when something destroyed one of their daggerboards.

“The first thing was we had to get rid of the daggerboard,” Read recalls, “It was attached by a bunch of ropes and you could hear it failing around under the boat. I was most worried about the sharp edges of the daggerboard actually puncturing up through the hull of the boat. So we desperately cut the ropes to get rid of the daggerboard. And of course when we got rid of the daggerboard by cutting the ropes we saved the hull but kind of cleaned out the rudder on the way through.”

They had somehow wrecked the entire steering system inside the boat, and when they finally had a chance to inspect the damaged rudder they found it facing backwards. “That’s when we said we’re done,” Read said. “We stopped and took all the sails down. We actually started kind of drifting back towards Sydney. And then all of a sudden I see the tools come out and when I see the tools come out with these guys that’s usually a good sign that they have an idea. All of a sudden you hear cutters and little grinders.”

Somehow they patched it all together. “There’s three stainless threads holding the entire steering system together right now,” Read adds. Maybe they would not need to pull out after all. “I talked to the watch captains and we all decided unanimously we’re here to finish this race.”

“I did not quite know what was going on,” Jim Clark said. Stuck on shore, the owner was only getting patchy news from his boat. “First I was told they retired and then that they were racing on. Until we came alongside the boat I wasn’t fully aware of exactly what had gone on. It was my first real indication of just what had happened.”

While Read’s tradies were ferreting away at the steering, Rambler swept past into the lead. It would be 13 hours before Comanche would take it back again after, bizarrely, Rambler smashed one of her daggerboards. Suddenly it was game on again. “About half way through we put in a long port tack and chewed up Rambler,” Read says. “We went from let’s just finish to, holy crap, we might win this thing.” And win it they did, in grand style.

Comanche had blitzed the field in the fresh nor-easter at the start, and, until losing her daggerboard and rudder, had continued to slowly increase her lead in the tough, southerly bash on the first night. But that was expected. What was not expected was how, in today’s lighter winds, the big, wide supermaxi consistently built on her lead over Rambler and Ragamuffin 100.

“I have been hearing all the time that we couldn’t perform in light wind” Read said, “and I have been saying that we’re really different from last year. This boat is doing everything we dreamt it could do and more. We love this boat. It got us here safe, right?”

By Di Pearson, Jim Gale and Bruce Montgomery, RSHYR Media

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Background: The 71st edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race starts December 26 in Sydney Harbor, taking an entry list of 109 boats along the 628 nautical mile course to Hobart that is often described as the most grueling long ocean race in the world.


Photos: © StudioBorlenghi/StefanoGattini

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