not just a big boy battle

Those who believe the long dominance of the supermaxis has been a negative influence on offshore racing Down Under (and that includes me) have to admit that the current four-way battle for the Sydney-Hobart lead is riveting. Comanche, Wild Oats XI, Infotrack and Black Jack were charging South within sight of each other at speeds of up to 27 knots. Now, as they pass the entrance to Bass Strait the breeze has gone light and Comanche is just clinging to a half-mile lead they hold over WOXI.

But computer-generated standings can be deceptive. The fleet have all headed well East of the rhumbline and are gybing down wind. Their tracks reveal very similar tactical approaches – at some points they almost seemed to be covering each other – but as any racing sailor knows it can be difficult to be sure who is actually in front when gybing downhill in a patchy breeze.

So it’s a genuine dog fight up front, the pity being that it is missing Scallywag, who lasted less than four hours before busting their bowsprit. After completing the recent Volvo round-the-world marathon skipper Dave Witt joked that the Hobart was not much more than a Twilight race. And that’s what it turned out to be for Scallywag.

The boat is a genuine design compromise between the narrow Reichel-Pughs and broad-arsed Juan Ks and might well have been a real contender in these variable conditions.

Yesterday, before the start, last year’s handicap winner Matt Allen (Ichi Ban) predicted that there would be numerous “transition zones” (holes) along the 628-mile course and that the leaderboard would therefore see plenty of changes. He was right. After leading on IRC for the first 15 hours Ichi Ban has tumbled down the standings to 8th place. The new overall leader is Patrice (Tony Kirby), a Kerr 46 that has been a consistent offshore performer on the Australian east coast. This is Kirby’s 35th Sydney-Hobart so he knows the way South. Second is Bruce Taylor’s little Reichel-Pugh Chutzpah, winner of the 2018 Sydney-Gold Coast race.

The two American entrants are doing well. Prospector (Terrence Glackin) is running in 9th place on line honours and Privateer (Ron O’Hanley) in 13th – and an impressive 4th on IRC. Another yacht that would be well known to US sailors as Moneypenny and then Trebuchet is now racing under the name Naval Group (Sean Langman). Crewed by a combined Australian and French team, the 69-footer is in 14th place.

Meanwhile, there have been two more retirements. Patriot, a J133 from Victoria, broke her rudder and the TP52 M3 Team Hungary was dismasted. The visitors from Eastern Europe are both out of luck. The Polish entrant didn’t even make the start.

And in case you missed it, here is a good video of the start and first hour of the race. It is of course worth noting the Wild Oats is now first on elapsed time…

– Anarchist David