SOLAS Big Boat Challenge to give first hints of Hobart form

The nation will get their first look at Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze-Clark’s new super maxi Comanche in race mode tomorrow, when the 21st SOLAS Big Challenge starts on Sydney on Sydney Harbour at 12.30pm, in a prelude to the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Testosterone will be flying when the distinctive red and black schemed 100 foot yacht from Rhode Island in America, with its white Indian feather nestled between the two colours, takes on an otherwise Australian fleet.

What better way to celebrate turning 21 than having the world’s most technically advanced but untested super maxi on the start line. The hull will carry some of the biggest names in sailing, including skipper Ken Read and navigator, Stan Honey, along with Australia’s Casey Smith as sailing master, when Comanche takes on the Aussies.  

The crews of Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI (skippered by Mark Richards), the most successful Rolex Sydney Hobart and SOLAS Big Boat Challenge (SBBC) line honours winner, Anthony Bell’s s Perpetual Loyal (the former Speedboat/Rambler) and Peter Harburg’s Volvo 70 Black Jack, to be skippered by Mark Bradford, will do everything possible to prevent an American win.

Like their foe, the Australian boats come equipped with their own ‘heavies’ from Australia and abroad, but Mark Richards holds the key to all, having taken line honours seven out of nine times since Oatley launched Wild Oats X in 2005.

A US win could prove psychologically damaging ahead of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, especially since Comanche has had only three days on the water since arriving in Sydney late last Sunday.

In 2005 and 2009, Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo bested Wild Oats XI in the SBBC and went on to win the 2009 Hobart, otherwise the race has belonged to the Oatleys and both Bob and his son Sandy plan on being aboard tomorrow.    

“It’s one of the greatest days out; I’ve never seen anything like it and I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” admits Anthony Bell, who will expose a new bow sprit which, he says, “will carry the biggest spinnaker ever made for a maxi boat in sailing – so my sail maker and sailing master Michael Coxon tells me.”

Others in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge include Matt Allen’s year-old Ichi Ban. Recently fitted with a new rudder, tweaked and tested, the Yachting Australia president says he is very happy with the Carkeek 60’s increased boat speed. His former Ichi Ban, a Jones 70 now owned by Andrew Wenham and racing as Southern Excellence, will be there too.

Last year’s overall winner, Shogun V, the TP52 owned by Victorian Rob Hanna, is back to defend her crown. But Hanna will have to take on a tough field, including other TP52’s such as the in-form Balance (Paul Clitheroe) and Frantic, owned by former Wallaby great, Mick Martin.

Other starters are Ray Roberts, who returns to the Australian yachting scene with OneSails Racing (former Living Doll) and Terra Firma, Nicholas Bartels’ Cookson 50 (Vic). Non Rolex Sydney Hobart entries include the Red Hand; a McConaghy 60 owned by Graham O’Neill, Geoff Morgan’s modified Davidson 55, You’re Hired, and Rupert Henry’s TP52 Fomo.  

In the inaugural Big Boat Challenge held in 1994 and sponsored by Canon, a one year-old Brindabella took the honours, much to owner George Snow’s delight. He was beaten to Hobart line honours that year by Tasmania, but finished the job properly in 1997. Jim Cooney bought the famous yacht in 2010 and will again have it on the line tomorrow.  

The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge takes the yachts on a 14 nautical mile course starting off Steele Point at Nielsen Park Vaucluse, down the Harbour to Manly for two and a half lap course takes yachts past many of Sydney’s famous landmarks along the way, including Fort Denison, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Sydney Opera House, which provides the picturesque finish line.

Some lucky people from the general public bid for places aboard a select number of competing maxis via an eBay auction, and will experience their first taste of big boat racing. All proceeds from the auction go to the CYCA Safety of Life at Sea Trusts (SOLAS). This is the eighth year the race will be sailed to raise money and awareness for this charity.

By Di Pearson, CYCA Media

Jeanneau JY55
West Systems
Jeanneau JY60
West Systems