To reef or not to reef, that was the question during the pre-start of the 2014 Rolex Sydney-Hobart. Wild Oats had one in, as did Ragamuffin and Rio 100 but Comanche and Perpetual Loyal thought they could carry full main in the 15-20 knot southerly which was gusting to 25 knots.
By start time Oats had shaken hers out, but put it back in again after rounding the first mark. It was that sort of day. Further back in the fleet there were small boats with two reefs and No 3 headsails.
The start itself was spectacular and lived up to all the pre-race hype. Five super-maxis dwarfed the two Volvo 70s and the three start lines were packed with the 117 starters.
On the first line, Mark Richards lined Oats up at the pin end, as usual, but he was being shadowed by Comanche, who in turn had Ragamuffin and Loyal in line astern.
Kenny Read was on the wheel of Comanche but I'd bet that it was America's Cup skipper James Spithill who called the perfect start for him. As the gun went so did Comanche, peeling onto a tight reach and leading Wild Oats by a boat length. For a moment it looked as though Oats would climb over the top but it was not to be.
It took the leaders just 4 minutes 30 seconds to reach the first mark off Manly, and just five minutes later they were round the sea mark and heading for Hobart. Comanche had opened a comprehensive 50 second lead over Oats who was a similar margin ahead of Ragamuffin.
Loyal was first to tack, heading inshore on the theory that “you can't beat them by following them”.
Black Jack was the best of the rest, leading Rio 100 which is 30 feet longer. The came the second Volvo, Giacomo from New Zealand, and the old Black Jack, now named Alive and sailing out of Hobart.
With a media boat running on only one engine it was impossible for us to get close enough to see how the rest of the fleet was faring in this early stage.
However, a look at the tracker showed a split at the front, with Oats tracking Comanche out to sea and Loyal just ahead of Ragamuffin right inshore. The inshore track appeared to be paying off, with Loyal and Rags clearly ahead of Comanche and Oats, and travelling at 13 knots to the offshore pair's 10 knots. The next few hours, as the southerly front comes through, will determine which was the better option.
The tracker can be accessed at http://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/tracker/.
– Roger McMillan, Editor.