blue water bullies

Not even Thanksgiving yet, and already Anarchist David gets the Sydney Hobart shit- stirring underway.
The are gathering as they do every year around this time. Like a herd of old pachyderms trudging wearily towards their elephant’s graveyard, the 100-foot Supermaxis once defined the frontiers of high-performance ocean racing.
Far too cumbersome for efficient mobility when not actually on the race track, these mastodons of our sport come together just once a year for the Sydney-Hobart race, one of the few major events on the international offshore calendar that still recognises these mammoth monohulls as the pinnacle of yachting competition.
Fivem Supers will face the starter on December 26 for the 638nm sprint to Tasmania. It is a measure of their antique status that only one – Comanche – is less than 10 years old. Most have already passed through multiple ownerships and name changes. Here’s the line-up:
Scallywag (formerly Ragamuffin 100, formerly Loyal, formerly Maximus, launched 2005).
Black Jack IV (formerly Alfa Romeo, formerly Europa, launched 2005).
Wild Oats XI (launched 2005)
InfoTrack (formerly Speedboat, formerly Rambler, formerly Perpetual Loyal, launched 2008).
Comanche (launched 2014)
All five yachts are already in Sydney. Black Jack recently sailed down from Brisbane to compete in last weekend’s Cabbage Tree Island race, the traditional qualifying event for the Hobart. Scallywag arrived five days ago after completing the delivery from her base in Hong Kong.
Media coverage of the race, which begins to crank up in mid-December, will concentrate almost exclusively on speculation as to which of the 100-footers is favoured to be first to the finish off Battery Point. Part of that pre-event hype is the “Big Boat Challenge”, a short round-the-cans race staged on Sydney Harbour a fortnight before the Hobart. It is, of course, useless as a guide to offshore form – but the finish staged near the Opera House is an attractive photo-op for the sponsors.
Indeed, there is no denying that these supermaxis make excellent media fodder. They provide a spectacular sight as they blast off the starting line in the Harbour and then turn South around the Heads and into the Tasman Sea. The television coverage shows little else. By the time these behemoths have set their spinnakers, it’s “back to the studio…”
This intense concentration on the supermaxis and their line-honours battle is predictable, but it irks many of the skippers and crew who make up the bulk of the fleet. The real competition is for the handicap prize where the winner is far more likely to come from the ranks of the 46-to-52 foot boats – half the size of Comanche.
Owners complain that the dominance of the 100-footers sucks away potential sponsorship support, and that the rules of the race have progressively been corrupted to advantage the supermaxis.  Canting keels, water ballast, powered winches, the latest sails and spars, fully professional crew. All of this is beyond the financial capacity of an average campaign, and foreign to the cherished “have a go” spirit of Sydney-Hobart history. That’s why, they say, fleet numbers for the Hobart and the other serious offshore events in Australia have been way down for more than a decade.
Well, they are right. But equally, there is not much hope of change until those who control the sport accept that by continuing to encourage these ageing supermaxis they are distorting the fundamentals of ocean racing. Maybe the 100-footers – and any yacht using stored power – should compete in their own division, and not be eligible for the overall handicap prize.
Whatever, time is surely running out for these blue-water bullies.