Sydney Hobart: Comanche Awarded Line Honors
Published on December 28th, 2017
Sydney, Australia (December 28, 2017) – Sport is often determined by fine margins and yachting is no exception. After a phenomenal contest between Jim Cooney’s LDV Comanche and the Oatley family’s Wild Oats XI over the full 628nm of the Rolex Sydney Hobart concluded yesterday in the Derwent River, the line honors title for first to finish was eventually decided today in the protest room.
An incident between the two 100-footers, shortly after the start, was adjudged in favor of LDV Comanche, who has been awarded Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honors after its protest against Wild Oats XI was heard by the international jury today.
International Jury Chairman, John Rountree said: “Wild Oats XI on port had to keep clear of LDV Comanche under Rule 10. Wild Oats XI failed to keep clear while tacking – Rule 13. LDV Comanche luffed to avoid a collision – Rule 14. Wild Oats XI did not comply with Sailing Instruction (S.I.) 20.1a to do a two-turn penalty for breaking the rule of part 2 occurring prior to clearing mark Zulu.
“The decision is in lieu of disqualification, penalized a time penalty of one hour to be added to her elapsed time in accordance with Sailing Instruction 20.1b and SI 22.1.”
Like Wild Oats XI, LDV Comanche finished inside last year’s record time, so the new record is one day 9 hours 15 minutes 24 seconds. She finished 26 minutes behind Wild Oats XI, but the latter’s one hour penalty means Comanche takes line honors by 34 minutes from Wild Oats XI.
The initial provisional result was reversed to give Cooney a first line honors victory with his new boat in a record time of one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds, bettering by 4 hours 15 minutes, 56 seconds the previous benchmark set in 2016.
After the hearing, Jim Cooney said: “I think it’s entirely fair and reasonable that the jury acted as they did. When you’re dealing with boats of this size and this caliber, we are at the elite level of our sport, and the boats have to be conducted responsibly in fair respect of the conditions and the impact that your maneuvers might have.
“I felt very strongly that wasn’t the case,” Cooney said. “The rules are there to protect the people and the boats and if we can’t rely on that it’s a difficulty in the sport.”
Cooney said the way they won the race has not taken any gloss off the sport. “The race is about how you conduct yourself and how your crew performs and how the boat performs. We feel we sail to the best of our abilities and (to win) justified our boat’s performance and the crew’s preparation.”
Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark Richards and Sandy Oatley representing the Oatley family, were gracious in defeat.
Richards said, “Obviously we’re very disappointed, but the international jury had a job to do. They saw the incident the way they saw it, we saw it a little bit differently, but the result is the result and we have to respect the decision of the jury.”
Sandy Oatley added: “We’d just like to congratulate Jim Cooney and his crew for their success, and move forward.”
“The real race was on the water,” Cooney continued. “The result is a fitting testament to the crew and the potential of the boat. The guys were fantastic. Stan Honey is not just a navigator, he is the navigator. Jimmy Spithill, too, is brilliant. Nothing escapes his attention anywhere on the water or around him.”
Veteran navigator, Honey, on his sixth Rolex Sydney Hobart and previously a line honors winner in 2015, had this to say, “The conditions suited Comanche, but it’s always a challenge in a 100-footer in that kind of wind to sail the boat in such a way that you don’t break stuff. We had a lot of very good sailors paying very careful attention and my decisions were geared to giving us the fastest passage.”
Kelvin Harrap, along with America’s Cup star and former Rolex World Sailor of the year Spithill, provided the tactical acumen. Harrap reflected on the character of the race: “We struggled a little with the wave-length, and kept putting the nose in the water a lot more than previously. We had our biggest sail on in 35 knots, and things were starting to get a bit crazy. We had to back off at one stage because people were getting washed around the deck. It was then a huge test to go from blasting in 30 knots, to being patient and calm in three knots.”
Following the light-wind start on December 26, the 73rd Rolex Sydney Hobart went from a slow-burning fuse to a fully primed fire cracker overnight. The leading boats lit the afterburners in response to the building north easterly. Armed with a tailwind and initially subdued sea state, the entire fleet enjoyed the dream conditions.
As widely predicted, LDV Comanche relished the opportunity to show her prowess and had built a reasonable lead by the early hours of the second day. 20nm ahead of her nearest rival, she was nearly 50nm ahead of last year’s race record pace. Astonishingly, several others were also bettering the 2016 progress.
The near perfect downwind conditions allowed the pacemakers to set a brutal tempo. The 30-knot nor’easter combined with 1.5 metre waves off the New South Wales coast at daybreak; less jarring than the 3m waves confronting the fleet as it edged into the eastern edge of Bass Strait later in the day.
Dismissing Black Jack and InfoTrack, the two other 100-foot Maxis, Wild Oats XI conducted a dogged pursuit of LDV Comanche; applying pressure and snipping away at the lead. By the late afternoon, the two frontrunners were virtually side by side. The race was compelling viewing.
The Derwent had long been predicted to be the critical point in the race. Whoever entered first would find any physical advantage threatened by the capricious nature of the river. Wild Oats XI and Comanche are polar opposites in hull form. One a wraith-like bullet; the other all power and muscle. According to Mark Richards, the skipper of Wild Oats XI: “The one thing you don’t need in the Derwent is power.”
The contrast between the fast planing conditions experienced earlier in the day and the near-windless finish could not have been greater. From a three-metre seaway, decks awash, constant trimming, crew and weight stacked far aft and on the high side to flat calm, weight forward and minimal movement.
The stress levels were the same. Pressing the accelerator hard for nearly 24 hours straight takes a toll on personnel and equipment. Keeping one’s nerve, eking motion from zephyrs and choosing the right lane in the light is just as demanding. “Hugely stressful times,” according to Richards, despite a combined total of 301 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Races within the Wild Oat’s XI crew.
Navigator, Ian Burns, enjoyed the race despite the eventual result: “We had the most incredible weather window. Historically, this is usually a bash to windward in a southerly, a little bit of hard running and a bit of drifting. Every single race I’ve ever done has had those three things except this one. We were reaching and running with downwind sails the whole time.”
In the end, the race to be first home on the water came down to a single maneuver judged to have been mistimed. Yet to remember the line honors contest for this reason would be an injustice. This was yacht-racing in its purest form. Man and machine against the elements in all their guises.
The line honors presentation is taking place at the Race Village this evening.