Big winds are driving the fleet down the coast on the first evening of the Sydney to Hobart, with last year’s line honours winner Comanche and Wild Oats XI the two leading contenders as one of their main rivals withdrew from the race.
The 74th edition of the race got started in traditional fashion at 1pm (AEDT) on Sydney Harbour, with the starters’ gun.
Wild Oats XI got the best start but another super maxi, Black Jack, outmanoeuvred its rivals and went clear to take the lead.
Black Jack was first out of the Sydney Heads in last year’s race, and so it proved again this year.
The Queensland boat, skippered by Mark Bradford and owned by Peter Harburg, put a gap on its rivals to be clearly first out of the harbour, followed by Info Track, Wild Oats XI, Scallywag and Winning Appliances ahead of Comanche.
Black Jack led out of Sydney Harbour, but it will need lighter winds to keep up with the main contenders. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
However, once free of the harbour, Wild Oats XI and Comanche began to pick up speed, and Comanche drew level with and then passed Black Jack.
Comanche would hold the lead for almost the rest of the afternoon, as winds remained high down the coast, but conditions are expected to ease going into Thursday, which could hand the advantage to boats like Wild Oats XI and Black Jack.
About 6:40pm on Boxing Day, Wild Oats XI had taken a 0.9-nautical-mile lead over Comanche, passing Bateman’s Bay on the New South Wales South Coast.
Info Track was a further 2 nautical miles back, and Black Jack was slipping back to 10.4 nautical miles behind.
One of the leading line honours contenders, Scallywag had its race ended with a broken bowsprit. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)
TP52 boat Zen was the first to withdraw from the race on the first afternoon, after damaging its rigging.
The big news came at approximately 4:20pm when Scallywag, the Hong Kong entry owned by Malaysian billionaire Seng Huang Lee, retired from the race after reporting a broken bowsprit.
There were no injuries on either boat. Scallywag was expected to head back to Sydney.
Wild Oats X, also owned by the Oatley family who own Wild Oats XI, was sixth on line honours late on the first afternoon.
The Reichel Pugh boat, with an all-female crew skippered by Stacey Jackson, had team ambassador Julie Bishop — the former foreign minister and federal Liberal deputy leader — on board in the harbour and during the early part of the race.
7sport tweet: Hats off to you, @JulieBishopMP! The former Foreign Minister jumps off the back of Wild Oats X.
Ms Bishop then jumped off the back of the boat in traditional style, to be picked up and brought to shore as Wild Oats X sailed out of the Heads.
The start on Sydney Harbour was without the drama of last year, when a tacking incident ended up costing Wild Oats XI a line honours win when it was penalised an hour, giving victory to Comanche.
However, although the serious sailors got their job right this year, members of the public were causing havoc on the harbour, particularly for last year’s top two.
Small craft were getting in the way in the harbour, and only good luck and good management by the big boats avoided a bad accident.
Comanche was blocked at one point, when skipper Jim Cooney had the boat poised to make a charge.
Minutes later, Wild Oats XI was in a similar situation — after getting free of the smaller boats, skipper Mark Richards was heard on the mics on board letting loose some frustration.
“We’re going to have to start putting some boat etiquette rules in the Palm Beach [boat] owners’ f***ing books,” Richards said.