refreshing start to sydney – hobart

There were three aspects of the Sydney-to-Hobart Race start today that marked it as different from the usual mad dash up the Harbour through 200,000 spectators to round South Head and bear away to Tasmania.

The first was there were none of those ubiquitous green-and-gold Rolex decals we’ve become accustomed to seeing on the bow of every competing yacht. It seems that the Swiss watchmaker has finally realized that these large oval pieces of plastic often come off during the race and end up polluting the Tasman Sea. A good call on behalf of the environment.

Next, there was no ‘live’ coverage of the start on free-to-air television. For more than 50 years the event has always been broadcast nationally – often by two networks at the same time – but this year the Sydney-Hobart was punted to a secondary channel because it clashed with an important cricket match in Melbourne. That’s a problem the organisers will have to solve before the 75th running of the race next year.

And finally, Wild Oats XI did not lead the supermaxi procession to the first rounding mark, something that had become so predictable over the past decade that bookies offer odds that only the most desperate mug punter would contemplate.

Refreshingly, the opening stanza of the 628-mile was a real boat race for the five-strong fleet of 100 footers. Working into a light NE blowing straight down the Harbour all boats made a clean start but soon split into two groups. Scallywag and WOXI opted for the Eastern shore, with the US Mills 68 Prospector nipping at their heels. Black Jack, Infotrack and Comanche went to the Western shore and spectators held their breath for what looked like an inevitable repeat of last year’s port-and-starboard clash when the yachts crossed paths.

But it was not to be. With her broad stern and huge wetted surface Comanche is always sluggish through the tacks in light wind and the much narrower Black Jack romped away, rounding the first clearance mark ahead of WOXI by a comfortable margin. As they unfurled their huge Code Zeros – most with the approximate square area of Luxemburg – the supermaxis surged South opening an immediate gap to the rest of the fleet.

At time of writing two yachts have already retired – the TP52 Zen with rig damage and Scallywag with a broken bowsprit. In the line honours contest Comanche, now relishing the reaching conditions, had opened up a 1 mile lead over Infotrack, followed by WOXI and Black Jack. In IRC – the real race – Privateer leads over the Botin 52 Ichi Ban, which is looking to repeat its 2017 victory. It’s shaping as a pleasant, but very competitive, race for the 83 yachts still in the fleet. Track them here.

– Anarchist David