US pair take charge as winds force title holder out

Maxi yacht Comanche powering through heavy swells at the start of the 71st Sydney to Hobart race. Defending champion and eight-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI was among the 23 boats that had dropped out by yesterday.
Maxi yacht Comanche powering through heavy swells at the start of the 71st Sydney to Hobart race. Defending champion and eight-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI was among the 23 boats that had dropped out by yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • American super-yacht Comanche retook the lead from fellow US challenger Rambler 88 in the Sydney to Hobart sailing race yesterday, as more damaged boats retired from the gruelling event.

Strong winds knocked out some 20 per cent of the field on Saturday and yesterday - including defending champion and eight-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI - whittling the 108-strong fleet that set sail from Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day down to 85.

The retirement of Wild Oats XI - which holds the race record of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set in 2012 - left the race in the hands of Comanche and Rambler 88, with just two nautical miles separating the pair.

Comanche, owned by Netscape founder Jim Clark and wife Kristy Hinze and one of the four 100-foot supermaxis that entered the 1,163km blue-water classic, led the race for line honours after bolting out of Sydney Harbour.

But the crew had to work hard to repair a damaged daggerboard and rudder before re-taking the lead from Rambler yesterday.

Rambler also suffered damage to its starboard daggerboard, after hitting an unknown object and its navigator Andrew Cape warned that it was a "serious structural problem impeding our boat speed".

Chasing the two yachts off Australia's south-east coast are Australian contender Ragamuffin 100 and Italy's Maserati.

"We decided to punch on through. We think we can get to Hobart safely," Comanche's accomplished American skipper Ken Read said. "I don't care if we limp over the line. We are going to finish this damned race."

Despite Comanche's lead, the organisers said milder conditions later could favour Rambler.

"On paper, the much lighter conditions expected in the bottom half of Bass Strait and along the Tasmanian coast favour the less beamy Rambler," the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia said.

Both American boats had battled strong southerly winds that hit the race, where sailors faced 25- to 30- knot winds and big gusts against a south flowing current.

Wild Oats XI captain Mark Richards said the conditions were "tricky" but not the worst he had ever experienced.

"A few things went wrong for us, when that happens, snowball effect, then it started to go real bad. We lost the main engine of the boat so it was all over," he said.

The first boats are expected to cross the finish line today.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'US pair take charge as winds force title holder out'. Print Edition | Subscribe