Wild Oats gets wind, Comanche stalls in defining moment of 2014 Rolex Sydney-Hobart

Will the 70th edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race have been decided between lunch and tea today? That’s the conclusion that one might well draw from the huge difference in the performance of the Hamilton Island supermaxi Wild Oats XI and her main challenger, the US boat Comanche.

In the words of race photographer Daniel Forster who flew over the fleet this afternoon, “Comanche looks like she’s stuck to the water.”

Having passed Comanche at about 10 am as they entered Bass Strait in light airs, Wild Oats XI maintained a speed of 12-15 knots, twice that of Comanche, for most of the afternoon until the lead had opened out to more than 20 nautical miles at 6 pm.

Meteorologists offered the view that Wild Oats XI had managed to sail through a ridge in Bass Strait, while Comanche had been stalled by it. Asked why she was only doing 6.6 knots, Comanche tweeted, “No wind”.

With the wind expected to clock round from the west to the north-east during the night and strengthen, the leading boats may reach Tasman Island by early afternoon tomorrow but they may also face light and variable winds in Storm Bay and the River Derwent. Those conditions may be Comanche’s only salvation.

Unfortunately for her, she appears to have found one of the few holes in the wind. Elsewhere, Forster reports, yachts were enjoying champagne sailing conditions.

The biggest casualty in the race so far is the third-placed supermaxi Perpetual Loyal. She is making for Sydney having suffered hull damage during the night, caused either by slamming into the sea from the tops of waves or hitting something, according to crewman Tom Slingsby. Loyal is the eighth retirement.

Leading on corrected time is Sam Haynes’ Sydney 47-footer ADA Celestial. Sam is a Sydney veterinarian who is raising money for Assistance Dogs Australia, dogs for the disabled.

“We are going ok. All is well,” he said. “Pretty nice, but the residual swell against the tide is making the kite trimmers and helm busy.”

Kevin Costin on Wedgetail nailed it at Green Cape this afternoon when he noted: “It seems the navigators and tacticians have made some different calls here. It will be interesting to see who buys the beers!”

On board Wild Rose, navigator Jenifer Wells pondered the night that had been: “The breeze wasn’t so bad, it was the strong current that made the seas rough.”

On Balance, skipper Paul Clitheroe reviewed the discomfort for all concerned: “The old saying goes ‘shaken not stirred’ but last night we were both shaken and stirred; 25 to 28 knots from the S/SE saw a very lumpy sea state.

Balance, and I'm sure the rest of the fleet, spent the night either flying off the short but sharp seas or much to the dismay of the crew, charging straight through them.

“I'm not sure what is worse. The flying is OK, but landing a 52-foot carbon boat time and time again makes me very nervous. She crashes back into the water, the rig compresses and groans and off she goes again. Driving straight through a wave is much better for the boat, only we all get saturated.”

By Bruce Montgomery, RSHYR media 

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