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The most famous boat in the world

by John Curnow, AUS Editor 20 May 15:00 PDT
Andoo Comanche burying their bow - 2023 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Rolex / Andrea Francolini

Goes by a lot of nicknames, but you'd have to think Comanche fits the bill wherever she goes. Right oh. Well, for just another eight months or so, she's not going anywhere. The most famous boat in the world has another, albeit short, charter that really only has the one objective. The John H. Illingworth Challenge Cup. If that subsequently turns into the Daily Double, let alone the prized, and oh-so-hard-to-achieve Trifecta, then so be it.

Now to get a handle on why this mission is so captivating and alluring it would be best to turn to one of the charterers. He's already amassed an impressive 31 Hobarts. Won the George Adams Tattersall Cup (Overall Win) thrice (Ummmm. Like. Ooooooopppps. It is so long ago even the interviewee had forgotten about it. 1983. Challenge with the Late and Great, Lou Abrahams. So Chalk up four!), and been second or third outright and under the reigning measurement rule of the time (these days it's IRC) on many an occasion.

In a lot of ways he could well be the very person pictured next to one of the most crucial of the Sydney to Hobart's unwritten laws - 'You will have four starts, but there's only ever been the one finish!'

It is undoubtedly still fresh in his mind too, for it was only a handful of years ago that the River Derwent applied the 'gone to sleep' card, yet another of the unwritten laws of the race BTW, and they were left doing casting practice to see who could snare the finish mark, and subsequently drag themselves across to collect another Overall Win.

Yes. That makes him Matt Allen AM, and along with James Mayo, they commenced a charter of Comanche on the first of May to 'roll the dice once more', as Allen puts it, to see if she can lay claim on her tenth birthday to her fifth Line Honours win. Of course, she is also very much capable of breaking her own record of 01:09:15:24, so long as there is plenty of puff, and probably from about 60 degrees True, and back.

"The imagery and footage of the boat certainly excites people, but it's also the name; it's just really such a well-recognised name in the sport. It's incredible," said Allen.

It is also her presence, for it is one massive bit of kit. The first time I saw the Titanium kite blocks up close, and looked at the sheeting angle they provide, given the monomaran's exceptional beam, emphatically makes you realise that she is a speed machine.

It's a bit like slicks on a car. You know it is all about heading to the track!

The power of a phone call - it was during a chat between the two charterers a couple of months ago that the plan was hatched. The boat had been prepped for transport, and was just about to leave for Europe when they stepped in. They had a Plan B, which was to go to New Zealand and take her off again, but thankfully it did not come to that. (And yes, EUR via NZL is definitely the Cook's Tour.)

About the time of writing the boat is coming out for spruce up, the ECSix rigging will be back from scanning soon enough, and then the gargantuan one-piece rig gets stepped again in early June, with the aim to get into some tuning and warm up racing by the time late September rolls around.

"Iain (Iain Murray AM) is in charge of the programme, and a lot of the crew are back, as well. It's pretty easy to find people that want to sail on Comanche, I must say. I thought it was quite easy getting crew on Ichiban, but this, this is next level."

"Anyway, we don't want to sort of try to reinvent the wheel. There's the new North Sails wardrobe, too, so it is a great package. We'll have a look at a few things we can do, as well, so it is very exciting times," said Allen.

"A handful of the Blue Water Point Score races are on the cards (like Cabbage Tree Island, Bird Island, Tollgate Islands), as too the Australian Maxi Championship, then there's the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge, and all of a sudden you're at Boxing Day at 1300hrs AEDT. So, the whole thing is short and sharp, but there's loads of experience around, both generally, and with the boat herself."

"There is a lot of gear associated with the boat, so we'll probably use some of the older gear in the couple of the first races. It'll be more about getting the crew back into sailing the boat mode and working out how we do all that. Then there are some improvements and changes to the boat, then bringing those online a bit later on as training progresses and we get closer to Hobart."

Unfinished business or just like-minded?

The other charterer, James Mayo, is a dual World Champion, and won the fabled 'Daily Double' (Line Honours and Overall Win) for the Sydney to Hobart on Bernard Lewis' Sovereign, back in 1987, where David Kellett was also part of the crew.

As Allen puts it, "James and I have had a number of conversations on a number of different projects in the past, and we found that what we wanted to do here was very similar. James sails a lot with Richie Allanson and Graeme Taylor (GT), and Iain is never too far from that frame either, so we are all there, or thereabouts."

"I've done a lot with Iain in America's Cup circles and also at Australian Sailing, sailed with and against Richie a lot, and GT and I go back to Mornington Yacht Club and also my Volvo 70. At any rate, it sort of made sense to keep the boat in Australia one more year, and give the crew a chance to turn the tables."

One thing is also for sure. There will not be a shortage of decent drivers on board, with the entire crew just about signed on already.

From the bow to the afterguard, it goes like this (i.e. there are no spots left):

  • Craig Garnet
  • Sven Runow
  • Harry Smith
  • Andrew Henderson
  • Andre Vorster
  • Campbell Knox
  • Phil Jameson
  • Daryl Wyslang
  • Clinton Evans
  • Sam Newton
  • Richard Allanson
  • Graham Taylor
  • Andy Green as Navigator before taking on Wild Oats XI for the Hobart, with Juan Vila stepping on for that race
  • Sam Fay
  • Pablo Arrarte
  • Iain Murray
  • Matt Allen
  • James Mayo

As you would expect, Iain Murray AM is very much leading the charge when it comes to getting Comanche ready for duty. She did indeed come out of the water yesterday, and there are a lot of jobs to get done. You would be correct in realising that it's a big boat, so in a way they're all big jobs, but also, the team are using the 'downtime' get through a list of crucial items that have built up over her journey to date. It is all about being as ready as they can once the trigger gets pulled.

There can be no doubt Murray loves Comanche, and he said in relation to her power, "It's been a fatal attraction between me and powerful boats all my life. It started with skiffs and dinghies, which were all overpowered little boats, particularly the 12 and 18 footers, and then a progression on through the ranks."

"By the time you get to yachts, there is no more powerful a boat than Comanche. So, it's a pairing made in heaven, really. It's about the challenges all the time. So in light airs you're trying to keep the thing going, and then in heavy airs it's trying to ride the bucking bronco. If you can work with it, just like the sea, it will deliver what you want."

The other thing that we mentioned earlier on is the lure or power of the race. During my conversation with Matt, Stan Honey's name came up, which is totally expected when you talk about Comanche. As Allen puts it, "About three months ago, Stan and I did a presentation to the New York Yacht Club regarding the Sydney to Hobart race. We call it the great race for a reason, but this is also about covering the topic from Stan's point of view, given I'm a bit biased."

"Both of us have done other races like Fastnet, Transpac, Newport to Bermuda, and clearly Stan has also done laps of the planet. He was asked, 'Which is the best Ocean Race in the world?' He actually said the Hobart, because the start is so spectacular."

"It's the spectacle with the glorious Harbour and associated bricks [Ed: and the gala start helps even if the pre-exclusion days are but a faint memory now], and then also the challenge of getting to Hobart with the weather and tactics, and that finish..." said Allen sighing.

"Still, I found it really interesting that Stan rated the Hobart as Number One."

Personally, I just enjoy the irony in a guy who's famous for 'Ichi Ban' commenting on someone else referring to number one, but there you go...

"You know, just the reaction from sailors all around the country has been really positive. Everyone's said, 'Oh, we're just so happy that the boat's going to be here for at least one more race.' The reaction has been massive," said Allen.

As Black Jack looks to have been sold in Europe, Scallywag is not here at the moment, and given restitution works on Wild Oats XI have commenced, it means she, along with Wild Thing 100, LawConnect and Comanche will be the big guns.

Allen concluded with, "I think Comanche is the most famous racing yacht in the world, and at any rate, it will be game on, whichever way you cut it."

Fighting words, them. Fighting words. How good it will be to have a contest once more. Giddy up!!!

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's websites for you. Simply use the search box, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into

John Curnow AUS Editor

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