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Comanche is still on track to destroy the Sydney to Hobart yacht race record -- but Wild Oats XI is closing the gap

LDV Comanche sailing out of Sydney yesterday for the 2017 Sydney to Hobart yacht race. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

LDV Comanche is absolutely tearing up the 2017 Sydney to Hobart yacht race, but second-position Wild Oats XI has started to close the huge gap the race leader had at 7am this morning.

The gap between the two super-maxis has narrowed from 20 nautical miles to just 9, as they make their way down the east coast of Tasmania.

Black Jack, InfoTrack, Beau Geste and Wizard are not too far behind, with the entire leading pack sailing ahead of Perpetual LOYAL’s 2016 race record.

More to come.


7AM: The wide-beam super-maxi had a commanding lead this morning and looks in with a strong chance to destroy the race record set just last year by Perpetual LOYAL.

Shortly after 6am on Wednesday, Jim Cooney’s boat was clocked by the official race tracker crossing Bass Strait at a scorching 31.6 knots — equivalent to around 59kmh — and about 10 nautical miles ahead of second-placed Wild Oats XI.

The race tracker showed Comanche around 60 nautical miles ahead of where Perpetual LOYAL was at this stage last year when it set the race record of one day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds. Comanche is on track to beat that record by about six hours.

Here’s a snap of the fleet leaders from the official site shortly after 6am this morning, with notes added.

rolexsydneyhobart.com

(Shortly after 7am, Comanche also took the lead in the overall race, accounting for handicaps.)

Comanche’s wide beam gives it an advantage over the other super-maxis in the race in the strong downwind conditions seen in this year’s race.

The conditions have also allowed it to sail a very direct course, closely following the “rhumb line”, which represents the most direct route between Sydney and Hobart.

Third-place Black Jack was behind around 30 nautical miles. In fourth was Beau Geste, while supermaxi InfoTrack — the renamed Perpetual LOYAL under new ownership — was in fifth.

While Comanche has a dominant lead, it could waver in the last part of the race approaching Hobart, which could see lighter and more fickle conditions, which favour Wild Oats XI.

Protest

Wild Oats XI and LDV Comanche in close contact at the start of the 2017 Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Photo: Rolex

The start of the race yesterday featured a dramatic close encounter between Wild Oats XI and Comanche, which will reportedly result in a protest being lodged by Comanche.

As the boats were leaving Sydney Harbour and turning out to sea, Comanche came within seconds of colliding with Wild Oats XI’s stern, triggering screaming between the crews and Comanche flying a red protest flag. Comanche, steered by the notoriously aggressive America’s Cup-winning helmsman Jimmy Spithill, was on a starboard tack giving it right of way.

Here’s the moment the two multi-million dollar yachts almost bumped:

In an indication that Wild Oats XI realised the seriousness of the situation, navigator Ian Burns said the crew discussed taking a 720-degree penalty turn but decided it wasn’t necessary.

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