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Fleet set to fly south for Rolex Sydney Hobart

by Rupert Guinness/RSHYR Media 25 Dec 2022 16:55 PST 26 December 2022
Hamilton Island Wild Oats on Sydney Harbour SOLAS Big Boat Challenge © Salty Dingo

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race could become the platform on which the sailing world discovers which maxi yacht is the fastest in the world if a predicted favourable downwind run prevails.

Comanche’s Line Honours race record of 1 day, 9 hours, 15 minutes, 24 seconds is still up for grabs with north/north-easterly winds forecast for today’s race start at 1pm. The winds are expected to freshen and continue to Wednesday.

The NSW Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) confirmed its forecast of a north/north-easterly for the 1pm start on Sydney Harbour with winds of 10-15 knots increasing to 20 knots outside the Heads. A southerly change is forecast for late Wednesday, but in the meantime, the yachts can expect strong running conditions.

Hamilton Island Wild Oats skipper, Mark Richards, was thrilled about the nine-time Line Honours champion’s prospects in the 628 nautical mile race, organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, which has a fleet of 109 lining up on four start lines off Nielsen Park.

"We've got 628 miles between that and three other very good boats," said Richards today.

"It's going to be a really great race to watch. I think the world's about to find out which is actually the fastest downwind boat in the world.

"Is it Comanche? Is it Black Jack? Is it LawConnect? Or is it Hamilton Island Wild Oats?

"The weather is fantastic and we couldn't have asked for a better forecast."

Sailing legend, Iain Murray, who switched from Hamilton Island Wild Oats to the John Winning Jr-skippered Andoo Comanche, believes the forecast will suit Hamilton Island Wild Oats best.

The other maxis are Peter Harburg’s defending Line Honours champion, Black Jack, skippered by Mark Bradford, and LawConnect, owned and skippered by Christian Beck.

"It's a really good forecast for Hamilton Island Wild Oats... the skinny boat with a big A2 spinnaker - a lot of area up there - and being able to sail the boat under the spinnaker," Murray said.

"I know that boat well. If you're on Oats, it's a forecast you would wish for."

As he spoke, Murray was wearing a black arm band. He and the rest of the Andoo Comanche crew are wearing them in respect of Murray’s mother, who died this past week.

Despite his prediction for Hamilton Island Wild Oats, there is no shortage of confidence on board Andoo Comanche, which has been the pace setter in the lead-up races this year.

"We're happy to be the favourites in any conditions... also happy to be the underdog in any conditions," Winning Jr quipped.

"We always think we're going to be the best boat out there and do as well as we can.

"We'll just take whatever comes and the forecast looks pretty even. We'll just try and outsail the others and win it on that."

Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford shared Winning Jr's enthusiasm for how the race may pan out, although he is uncertain about a record due to the southerly forecast for Wednesday.

"There could be a race record," Bradford said. "Right now, we are just a bit outside that, but certainly it will be a fast race and the 27th is going to be a great day for sailing."

Bradford is embracing the pressure of Black Jack being the defending champions, saying: "We put most of that pressure on ourselves regardless of the position we're in now.

"But it's a great opportunity to go back to back and there's certainly a plan."

Less optimistic was Christian Beck, whose LawConnect sails better in harder upwind conditions.

"I think we've got as much chance as Steven Bradbury did in the Winter Olympics all those years ago," he said, with a smile.

"You never know what will happen, but I think that the narrow boats just do so well in the predicted conditions."

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