There was excitement and controversy at the start of the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart as the four 100ft super maxis led the fleet out of the harbour.
In the light (10 knot) easterly, the pace during the pre-start was much less frenetic than normal. Instead of the big boats slicing through the smaller fleets before lining up on their own start line, they floated quietly, changing headsails and manoeuvring towards their preferred position for the gun.
Usually Mark Richards lines Wild Oats XI up on the pin end but today he chose the boat end and it didn't work. Caught by a sudden drop in the wind strength, Oats was well short of the line and it was LDV Comanche, with Jimmy Spithill on the helm, that led the fleet.
Spithill's America's Cup team mate Tom Slingsby was to windward of Comanche but got some bad air and dropped back. In the middle of the line, Black Jack was looking good and closed up to windward of the big red indian.
Approaching the first turning mark off Manly, it was obvious that no tack was required and Black Jack tucked her nose inside Comanche and carried her past the mark. A call of “water” from Spithill
forced Black Jack to tack and the two leaders headed out through the heads to the second turning mark.
Oats had made up some ground and was third around the Manly buoy, with Infotrack, a heavier boat, struggling in the very light airs, suffering the indignity of following Wild Oats X, the RP65.
In the sloppy seas of the open ocean, even the super maxis struggled to get any momentum as they stayed hard on the wind towards the final mark.
Comanche, heading out to sea on starboard, called Wild Oats who were on port and a very close encountered followed. Oats tacked on their air and there was an immediate cry of 'protest” and plenty of waving arms. The red protest flag was raised on the backstay of Comanche but Oats declined to do penalty turns, obviously choosing to leave this one up to the jury in Hobart.
Meanwhile Black Jack had stayed out of the fight and sailed a perfect line to the final turning mark. She was first around, the crew eased sheets and hoisted a big reaching sail, headed for Hobart.
In the fleets behind there were more close crosses as the TP52s, favoured for handicap honours if the weather patterns play out as predicted, and all the 30 and 40 footers tried to get out of the harbour with the fewest manoeuvres.
It was an impressive sight as more than 100 racers charged south. The tracker will be up and running shortly and can be viewed at http://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/tracker/.