- Sydney Harbour was packed with spectators watching the start of the 74th Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
- When the fleet got out to sea there were some near-collisions with pursuing pleasure boats, leading to some choice words from one of the race’s most accomplished skippers.
- Giant super-maxi Comanche took an early lead as the fleet headed south.
A vast spectator fleet chasing the leaders led to some close calls with fast-moving super-maxis at the start of the 2018 Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, with last year’s winner Comanche taking an early lead.
A spectacular day on Sydney Harbour drew a huge crowd of on-water spectators for the start of the race, and TV cameras caught at least two near collisions with the top contenders after the leaders turned south and picked up speed in the sea breeze.
Mark Richards, skipper of Wild Oats XI and eight-time line honours winner of the world-famous race, was later caught on his microphone complaining colourfully about the activity of some of the spectator boats.
Richards was overheard on the TV feed saying: “We’re going to have to start putting some boat etiquette rules in the Palm Beach owners’ f**king book.”
Palm Beach is a major manufacturer of high-end speedboats — and it was founded by Richards. It is also the name of a glitzy suburb north of Sydney filled with millionaires’ weekenders that is home to large amounts of pleasure craft.
While there was no controversy to match last year’s near-collision between Wild Oats XI and Comanche — which would later cost Richards the line honours thanks to a post-race penalty — it was another dramatic start for the Sydney to Hobart, now in its 74th year.
Some of the super-maxis including Wild Oats XI hit a wind hole near the first turning mark near the outer edge of the harbour, making for some close-quarter manoeuvering and allowing Black Jack, which had taken a more easterly course, to come charging through and be first to make it out to the turn south towards Hobart.
Comanche, the biggest of the super-maxis, also struggled in the patch of light wind but once out to sea she unfurled more sail and started picking up speed over the rest of the main contenders for line honours.
The super-maxis are now barreling south at over 20 knots in prime sailing conditions. A check of the race tracker shortly before 3pm showed Comanche with a lead of 1.6 nautical miles over Black Jack, with the other super-maxis in close pursuit.
The conditions are forecast to favour the bigger super-maxis like Comanche in the early stages, although winds are likely to become more variable overnight as the fleet heads towards Bass Strait and the Tasmanian coast, giving more agile boats like Black Jack and Wild Oats XI a chance to recover lost ground.
Wild Oats XI has new sails this year to try and add boat speed while Comanche has had some work done to try and improve performance in lighter winds.
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