This is the first of a series looking at the contenders for this year’s race, focusing on the supermaxis.
I will also look at both line honours and handicap contenders, and as we get closer to the start and some more accurate weather forecasts I will make some predictions.
As of today, there are set to be 111 starters on Boxing Day, the largest fleet for a number of years.
The fleet includes four supermaxis, and 20 maxis (70-90 foot yachts) including the Clipper 70s fleet that is including the Sydney to Hobart as part of its round-the-world race, along with some ex-Volvo Ocean Race vessels.
Let’s start with the supermaxis contenders:
1. Wild Oats XI, skipper Mark Richards
2. Perpetual Loyal, skipper Anthony Bell
3. Comanche, skipper Ken Read
4. Ragamuffin 100, skipper Syd Fischer
The two hotshots in this group are without doubt Wild Oats XI and Comanche, although the others cannot be discounted, especially if they get weather that suits them.
Ragamuffin 100 took line honours as Investec Loyal in 2011 and as Ragamuffin Loyal finished second to Wild Oats in 2012. While she has a great skipper and crew, she will have a tough job trying to mix it with the two superstars unless all the cards fall her way.
Anthony Bell took line honours in 2011 with Investec Loyal, however for the past few years he has had a completely different vessel, Perpetual Loyal. Formerly known as Speedboat and Rambler 100, she was at one stage reputedly the fastest 100-foot yacht in the world.
As Rambler 100 she had her division of the 2011 Fastnet Race sewn up when she lost her keel and capsized. However, she is now a 13-year-old boat, and largely as she was originally designed, leaving her a little short on legs in comparison to the big two.
As usual Anthony Bell will have a host of celebrities on board, including former Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke, Wallaby Kurtley Beale and rugby league’s Anthony Minichiello.
The race to be first into Constitution Dock in Hobart will most likely come down to either eight-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI and Comanche. Wild Oats XI is now 10 years old, a veteran in offshore racing terms, but Bob Oatley and his team, led by Mark Richards, have not been resting on their laurels, making modifications each year to try and keep her ahead of the field.
This year approximately $2 million has been spent on a new sail wardrobe and extensive modifications to her hull. The first part of the operation involved cutting the hull just forward of the mast and removing a 14-metre section of the bow and replacing it with a new 16-metre section. Her bowsprit was also extended by a metre.
These extensions allow for larger headsails and spinnakers to be carried, increasing her potential power, and hence speed. As the maximum length permitted for a yacht competing in the Sydney to Hobart is 100 feet (30.48 metres), a two-metre section of her stern had to be removed and remodelled to make her race compliant. We saw her in action for the first time in the Big Boast Challenge, and once again she looks formidable.
The American challenger Comanche is the superstar of the offshore racing world. Yes, she was beaten by Wild Oats XI in the Hobart last year, but only by 49 minutes and after some very light, flukey conditions spoiled her run.
Since then, Comanche has taken all before her, with line honours in this year’s Fastnet and Transatlantic Races and she broke the record for distance covered in 24 hours by a monohull, to set a new mark of 618.01 nautical miles, averaging 25.75 knots. That is some serious gas!
The race distance from Sydney to Hobart is 628 nautical miles, so if she gets the right conditions she could finish in a little over 24 hours. The current record is held by Wild Oats XI at one day 18 hours 23 minutes and 12 seconds. Given the right conditions, Comanche could put a serious dent in that record.
The line honours winner should come from this group and most likely it will be either Wild Oats XI or Comanche, the weather forecast determining who will start as favourite. However, as in all good thrillers, there is a dark horse on the horizon, and it sits in the next group, the maxis.