There was a dramatic start to the 73rd Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Sydney Harbour with a near-crash between two leading chances, and a protest lodged as the fleet got underway amid expectations of a new race record.
The four supermaxis — LDV Comanche, Wild Oats XI, last year’s line honours winner InfoTrack (formerly Perpetual LOYAL) and Black Jack — were seen as the main chances to win line honours before the start in overcast conditions at 1:00pm AEDT.
The trouble came near the exit to Sydney Heads, as Comanche — in second at the time — had the right of way, but Wild Oats XI was charging and the boats got very close coming to the turning mark.
There were shouts from both boats, as Wild Oats XI made a late move with the boats coming within metres of each other — Comanche was forced to change course.
Skipper Jimmy Spithill on Comanche fired in an official protest, but Wild Oats XI went clear into second as they came out into the ocean.
As their rivals duelled behind on the water, Black Jack pulled away to get a surprise early advantage heading south.
More than an hour into the race, there was a solid gap between the leading trio and InfoTrack in fourth, followed by Wizard and then Beau Geste travelling further out from the coast.
There had been lighter winds on the harbour at the start, but race favourite Comanche was out early with Black Jack, and InfoTrack in third followed by Beau Geste. Wild Oats XI was a little further back after a slowish start. Skipper Mark Bradford on Black Jack held Comanche out from tacking, to stop their rivals from getting clear air.
At the first mark, it was Black Jack leading Comanche, with Wild Oats XI coming into third, about a minute behind.
With winds expected to pick up as the fleet heads down the coast, those on all the leading boats have tipped a race record, beating last year’s winning mark of one day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds.