where to now?

Update: It is believed that both Black Jack and Comanche have been sold and are headed for the Med.

Perhaps the most interesting question to emerge from the 2019 Sydney-Hobart is: ‘How much longer can this race be dominated by the supermaxis?’ 

Four of the world’s seven offshore racing 100-footers are based in Australia (Wild Oats XI, Black Jack, Comanche, InfoTrack). One – Scallywag – sails under Hong Kong ownership but is essentially an Australian effort. Both Rio 100 (American) and Leopard (British) once competed in the Hobart race but are unlikely to ever return. 

All of these boats are getting decidedly long in the tooth, despite their numerous bouts of cosmetic surgery. The TP52s go almost as fast but at less than half the cost – and dominate the handicap podium. The supermaxis are mastodons of the sea facing certain extinction. But when?

There seems little doubt that the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the organizing authority for the Sydney-Hobart, has clung to the 100-footers for so long because they are such natural media magnets. The club well understands that the hefty sponsorship provided by Rolex every year will only continue if the race generates broad coverage – and plenty of brand-name mentions. That’s the deal.

The supermaxis are big, glamorous and fast. By setting an upper LOA limit of 100 feet in the NoR the semblance of an even contest is preserved. A first-to-finish sprint to Hobart is easy for our non-sailing colleagues in the mainstream media to understand. But once the big boys have finished the coverage immediately disappears from the front page only to emerge in much smaller form somewhere inside the sports section. 

There is a peculiarly Australian head-in-the-sand aspect to all this. Elsewhere in the world foiling offshore monohulls in the 40-60 foot range are becoming the new standard. Given the right conditions they are as quick as the supermaxis. There must surely soon be pressure from a French or UK team to allow foilers in the Hobart race. 

Meanwhile, in nearby New Zealand, the 2021 America’s Cup will be sailed in lift-foiling monomarans – another development in yacht design that may well eventually trickle down into ocean racing (although the effectiveness of the principle in anything other than very flat water is yet to be established).

And beyond all that, still lurking in the shadows, is ‘the class that dare not speak its name’: multihulls. 

The CYCA sets the parameters for offshore competition in Australia and they have held out against the multis for decades. All the top-level passage racing Down Under is restricted to monohulls. 

Again, this reluctance to embrace the spectacular brand of sailing that now captures so much attention in Europe is probably an expression of the club’s sensitivity to sponsorship attitudes. 

The 100-footers have been good for Rolex and their local skippers must therefore enjoy considerable influence. Nobody spending millions to campaign a conventional supermaxi wants their boat reduced to insignificance as a flock of trimarans all whistle past doing 35 knots. 

Next in line to be Commodore of the CYCA is Noel Cornish, a straight-shooting offshore veteran who races his own 47-foot boat in all the major East Coast events. Guiding the future of the Sydney-Hobart may be one of his most difficult tasks.  

anarchist David