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Comanche powers to clear line honours victory in Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

by Rupert Guinness, RSHYR media 27 Dec 2019 20:45 PST 28 December 2019
James Cooney, Laurent Delanney (Rolex Head of Global Sponsorships), Samantha Grant, Jim Cooney and Patrick Boutellier (General Manager of Rolex Australia) with the J.H. Illingworth Trophy and Rolex timepiece - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Carlo Borlenghi / Rolex

Comanche's line honours win in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race this morning may not have fully erased the disappointment of her third place last year for co-owner and skipper Jim Cooney.

But the super maxi's win over InfoTrack, Wild Oats XI, SHK Scallywag 100 and Black Jack - the four other super maxis this year - is helping Cooney to let go of some of the angst from 2018. At that time, Comanche finished behind the Oatley family's Wild Oats XI (which claimed its record ninth victory) and was pipped for second by Peter Harburg's Black Jack.

"I don't think it will ever erase the memory completely," said Cooney after Comanche signed off on the 628-nautical-mile Cruising Yacht Club of Australia race in a time of 1 day 18 hours 30 minutes and 24 seconds - outside her 2017 record of 1 day 9hrs 15mins 24secs.

"Last year was very frustrating; having led all the way down the coast until we got to Tasman Island. You'll always remember that disappointment, but it's faded a little bit after today."

Built in 2014, Comanche first took line honours in 2015 under previous owners Jim and Kristy Clark, by beating Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin 100.

Under ownership of Cooney and wife Samantha Grant, the 100-footer's line honours victory in 2017 came after Wild Oats XI was penalised over a port and starboard incident with her and lost line honours and the record.

But as Cooney said: "In 2017, I maintained we were the first legal boat across the finish line. And we are the first legal boat across finish line today. I haven't seen any [protest] flags anywhere, so fingers crossed. The 75th Sydney Hobart... it's a fantastic achievement to win line honours."

Cooney steered Comanche over the Castray Esplanade finish line in Hobart after taking command of the race yesterday morning.

In the end, it came down to Comanche and Christian Beck's InfoTrack. Early this morning, Beck's boat trailed Comanche by 20 nautical miles, but in the closing stages narrowed it to seven nautical miles.

After passing the Iron Pot with 13nms to go, Comanche flew up the Derwent River under full main and Code Zero, maintaining good boat speed. But with 3nms to go, the wind lightened and she was struggling, but the breeze returned, and Comanche was able to pick up again.

Asked what he was thinking at the time, Cooney smiled and said:

"Finishing the Transpac in Waikiki (Honolulu) this year (he took line honours) was much better. Finishing this race here, that was traumatic. That's 30 minutes of my life I'll never get back," he said of the period Comanche was parked on the Derwent this morning. "It was really stressful. [Winning] was relief more than elation."

The masterstroke for Comanche was heading offshore yesterday while the other super maxis sailed closer to the rhumbline. The move paid off handsomely.

The crew on InfoTrack threw all they had at Comanche, but they could not consistently match the boat speed of the leader, and happily settled for second place.

"It was way beyond my expectations. It was great," said Beck after docking in Hobart.

"We were a bit worried that the other skinny boats would catch us, but it worked out okay.

"The start was fantastic for us. It's always been my dream to be first out of the Heads," he said of beating all the other 100-footers out of Sydney Harbour.

"The crew did a fantastic job. The boat's not a very good boat, but the crew was exceptional. To be first out of the Heads and to come second in that fleet was incredible."

"It is a dog of a boat, it is just very well sailed," Beck added with a laugh.

In a thriller that kept sailing fans riveted throughout the race, four of the five super maxis vied for the lead, Wild Oats XI the only one not to take a turn this year.

Wild Oats XI raced brilliantly to fight from as far back as 11th place on line and 38nms down on the race lead, to still beat SHK Scallywag this morning for third place by a meagre 38 seconds.

"To come back from where we were to what we did today, I am really happy," said skipper Mark Richards after finishing. "It is a great result for the team.

"Obviously, Comanche and InfoTrack were going to get us, but to catch up with the other guys is awesome.

"[We had] a great day sailing, pulled off some nice manoeuvres... it's never over. And to go from fourth to third is really satisfying."

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