Slow Glide Start to Sydney Hobart

Published on December 26th, 2017

Sydney, Australia (December 26, 2017) – 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.

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.

Peter Harburg’s 100-foot Black Jack led the length of the harbour and out into the open sea, hotly pursued by LDV Comanche and Wild Oats XI. Black Jack, the light weather flyer of the four 100 foot super maxis racing for line honours in the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart took full advantage of the light, easterly conditions on Sydney Harbour this afternoon to lead her contemporaries out of the Heads.

Beneath a moody, overcast sky, skipper Mark Bradford steered the lean, black hulled Queensland yacht through a textbook start while his big three rivals, LDV Comanche, Wild Oats XI and InfoTrack at times looked out of sorts.

With 628 miles of racing ahead of her in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 73rd running of the race, LDV Comanche chose a safe, somewhat lonely start at the pin end of the line, unfavoured in this light easterly breeze. Raw power tomorrow, not her Harbour manoeuvres this afternoon, will win Comanche the race.

Meanwhile, Black Jack timed her start perfectly, at full speed, when she crossed the line fourth from the pin in complete command.

As the two raced down the Harbour on starboard tack, Peter Harburg’s Black Jack had Jim Cooney’s LDV Comanche covered. For a tantalising moment it appeared the giant red and black hull of Comanche could muster enough speed to break the cover, but Black Jack soon established that in this breeze, she had more than enough boat speed to dominate.

Black Jack eventually rounded the first mark well ahead of Comanche, and the gap continued to widen as the two tacked towards the sea mark.

Behind them, Mark Richards was hauling Wild Oats XI back from an abysmal start. With a minute to go he had found himself boxed in, and the Oatley family’s boat looked downright slow when she did eventually cross the line below and astern of her little sister Wild Oats X.

It took the hundred footer five minutes to finally get past her 66ft stablemate, with a lethargic InfoTrack trailing them both – her preferred heavy breeze completely absent.

With his silver-grey thoroughbred at last running free, Richards delayed his turn towards the sea for ages, heading towards Manly and tacking far closer to North Head than his rivals. It worked. When Wild Oats XI crossed Comanche half way out Richards was ahead. Now it was Comanche’s turn to look sluggish.

At the sea mark Black Jack rolled out her big Code Zero and hugged the coast as she barrelled south through a wall of spectator craft. Eventually Wild Oats XI reached the mark in second place, but as her crew set their big head sail Richards opted to head further out to sea.

Third came LDV Comanche, which almost came to a halt as her giant genoa filled with water like a balloon, the crew struggling to haul the dead weight of the sail back on board. At her stern was a small red protest flag, confirmed by Cooney in a call around 4pm. At the time of writing, the first sked had yet to start, when it is expected they will be informed there will be a protest – and on what grounds – but it appears it is to do with the crossing with Wild Oats XI.

Next to the mark were Wild Oats X and InfoTrack, with Beau gest trailing them further north and to seaward of the rhumbline.

With Black Jack close inshore and Oats and Comanche heading out, the first big tactical call has been made in what will be an absorbing line honours battle. Only one way will turn out to be the right way to go to set up for the transition to the nor-easter later this afternoon, but which one?

Black Jack has to make the most of this early stage of the race. These are her conditions. LDV Comanche and Wild Oats XI will get theirs later. Bradford and Black Jack’s owner, Peter Harburg, will be feeling the first hour went very well. At 4.15pm this afternoon, Wild Oats XI’s navigator, Ian Burns, said Black Jack, LDV Comanche and themselves were in close contact.

Burns said further he did not believe an incident took place between Wild Oats XI and LDV Comanche and therefore did not need to do a 720 degree penalty turn.

As the super maxis accelerated south the smaller boats spread out between Sydney Heads, battling their way through the washing machine created by spectator boats trying to keep up with the favourites. Some will hug the rhumbline, others are already searching for a current further out to ride to Green Point.

On a difficult day most had started this race as they would have planned. Only three yachts on the crowded second start line, St Jude, Smuggler and Jazz Player, were forced to return and restart correctly after jumping the gun.

At 4.20pm Geoff Cropley reported from St Jude their disappointment at breaking the start and said, “We also lost all our instruments 12 minutes before the start, only our compass is working. We are sailing like dinghy sailors – by the seat of our pants.” Asked if they could repair, Cropley said, “Stewart Holdsworthy is working on it.” Cropley said they were sailing in an 8-11 east-nor-easterly breeze.

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.

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Source: Jim Gale, RSHYR media

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