When the 70th Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race gets underway just after 1pm today, keep an eye out for Comanche, owned by 70-year-old Texan billionaire Jim Clark, founder of US tech companies such as Silicon Graphics Inc. and Netscape, and his Australian supermodel wife Kristy Hinze-Clark.
The 100ft supermaxi – the maximum size allowed for boats in the Sydney to Hobart – only hit the water two months ago after a one-year build in Maine, USA, and this is the state-of-the-art boat’s first major race.
There are five supermaxis in this year’s Hobart, including last year’s winner, Wild Oats XI, veteran Sydney yachtsman Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin 100, last year’s bridesmaid, Perpetual Loyal and Rio 100, the former Lahana, extensively modified and lengthened and now owned by US computer tech magnate Manouch Moshayedi.
Together, the boats are worth well north of $100 million. How much Clark spent on Comanche is unknown, but he’s said it’s like “building a Formula One car from scratch although hopefully not quite as expensive”.
He’s said of the investment “You are not going to ever get anything back from it, except enjoyment”.
Clark has build the boat with the aim of winning a number of big international races, starting with the Hobart, before selling it in a couple of years. One of his other boats, the 47m triple-masted schooner Athena is currently on sale for around $AU93 million or can be chartered for $AU555,000 a week.
Comanche’s design is in part inspired by Perpetual Loyal (formerly called Speedboat), owned by accountant Anthony Bell, whose goal is to beat Wild Oats XI. America’s Cup navigator Stan Honey, who was on Perpetual Loyal last year, has swapped to Comanche for the 2014 race. Comanche is skippered by top US sailor Ken Read, with a crew of 21, including Australians such as World Sailor of the Year James Spithill, who won the America’s Cup in 2013 skippering Oracle Team USA.
While Kristy Hinze-Clark skippered the boat during some of its trial races, the mother of two, aged four months and three years, has decided against competing in the Hobart this year with tough conditions forecast.
The big boats will face their first challenge as they turn south in the 630 nautical mile race to Hobart, with 30-knot southerly winds predicted for Friday night.
Despite their size, the big boats are designed to be downwind flyers and pushing into the breeze in heavy seas is a challenge for boats that are build like thoroughbreds and just as susceptible.
There are 117 boats competing in the 70th Rolex Sydney to Hobart. The weather is expected to favour boats half the size of the supermaxis as the breeze swings back to a northerly over the weekend and strengthens on Monday, giving the 40ft boats a big advantage to win the handicap honours.
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