Comanche “not designed for the Sydney-Hobart” but still a threat

While Syd Fischer continues to prepare his super maxi Ragamuffin 100 for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race after the new hull was delivered 19 days ago, American Jim Clark has launched his colourful new Comanche in the USA and trials are underway.

The 70th running of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual race is living up to expectation with 98 high-calibre entries received so far, from Sean Langman’s 1932 built Maluka of Kermandie, the oldest and smallest boat at 9 metres, to the super maxis. The most talked about boat though, is the Verdier Yacht Design & Vplp 100 footer, Comanche.

Built at Hodgdon Yachts in Maine, and designed to break records, Comanche was sailed for the first time on October 13, and will be spiced with Australian flavour come the 628 nautical mile race in December; partly because her co-owner is Kristy Hinze-Clark, a former super model from Australia married to Jim Clark. 

Her mainsail also reflects Comanche’s Australian connection, as does Aussie crew; boat captain Casey Smith, Ryan Godfrey in the pit and Chris Maxted ‘floating’. 

“Crew for this race is finalised,” says skipper, Kenny Read. “As there is such a small window to work the boat, any good skipper knows the best thing is to surround yourself with people you know and trust. They’re people I’ve done a million miles with,” he says of other big names in navigator Stan Honey and New Zealand’s Kevin Halrap on tactics.

“We leave early next week for Charleston to put the boat on a ship – next stop Sydney.  We look forward to seeing you all down there,” says Read, a world champion sailor of Volvo Ocean Race fame.

Jim Clark, an American entrepreneur and computer scientist, founded several prominent Silicon Valley technology companies, such as Silicon Graphics Inc. and Netscape Communications Corporation. He says: “I'm certainly excited about Comanche’s potential to do what it was designed to do – break some speed records.”

Clark has some reservations though. “It was not designed for the Sydney Hobart, which is an unusual race, especially in the past few years, as it's turned into a lighter air downwind race. In those sorts of conditions, I'd say Comanche is unlikely to have any commanding advantage.

“In many other conditions, I think Comanche should do pretty well. However, the boat and crew will have had only a couple of weeks on the water before we ship it to Australia. There's a lot of work to do before the race start. In the short term, I don't have high expectations, but in the long term, I think this boat could really set a mark.”

Ken Read is excited about the prospect of racing the yacht. Asked how it felt to sail a boat designed to push the boundaries of technology and to aim for line honours in all of the world’s major races, he said: “We’ve only been out a few times, but I’m very excited to sail Comanche. It’s an amazing boat that very quickly earns your respect.

“Working out how we unleash the potential without breaking anything is going to be a steep learning curve for us all, and that transfers to the race as well. We need to be going at full throttle, but we also need to work out her limits.”

Of their competition for the upcoming Rolex Sydney Hobart, their first major race, Read conceded, “The other maxis are all tried and tested in this race, so we’ve a lot of catching up to do – I’m as anxious to see the results as anybody. We have to keep remembering there is a three-year schedule for this boat and this is just the beginning.”

Ragamuffin 100’s owner, Syd Fischer, is not overly concerned about Comanche or his other line honours rivals. At Friday night’s Australian Yachting Awards, where he received the coveted Yachting Australia President’s Award, Fischer said: “I’m happy with the boat I’ve got on the way and I’m looking forward to racing the other 100 footers.”

CYCA organisers are predicting a world class fleet of up to 130 yachts will start the race on Boxing Day, December 26 at 1pm AEDT. Entries close on Friday 31 October 2014 at 1700hrs AEDT.

The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2014 Race Entry and Notice of Race are online at: http://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/competitors/online-race-entry/.

By Di Pearson, RSHYR media 

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