Comanche claims third Sydney to Hobart win
UPDATE 7.40AM: A TACTICAL error cost Comanche victory in last year's Sydney to Hobart yacht race but strategic genius saw Jim Cooney's all-conquering supermaxi go into the record books as line honours winner of the 75th anniversary of the blue water classic on the Derwent this morning.
Cooney's red-hulled rocket passed the Iron Pot, the last navigation point before entering the river, at 5.51am _ well ahead of its nearest rival InfoTrack, owned by Sydney IT millionaire Christian Beck.
Cooney was cool and calm as he stood on deck, at one stage sitting down to use his phone before taking over on the helm, his 100-footer surrounded by spectator craft and police maintaining a perimeter.
There were several heart-in-mouth moments when Comanche's 15-knot run up the river turned into a no-breeze drift, at one stage actually edging backward as InfoTrack's mainsail grew ever-larger in the distance.
Cooney sent a crew member up the mast where he sat on the second-highest spreader to spot for breeze, and when it eventually returned so did the smiles for a 10-knot run to the line.
Comanche finally took the gun at 7.31am, sealing a famous victory.
"That was pretty nerve wracking - last year was playing over in my mind," Cooney said.
"The race wasn't without its issues for us."
Comanche bungled the start on Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day _ it was the last boat over the front starting line for the big boats.
It stormed into the lead after 38 minutes of racing and led until dawn on the second day, when the weather threw up more twists and turns than a Hitchcock classic.
Comanche's navigator Stan Honey took the yacht well out to sea to pick up a nother-easterly weather system and that is where Comanche grabbed the lead and could not be caught by InfoTrack, Scallywag, Black Jack and Wild Oats XI.
On-board Cooney's speedboat was his wife Samantha Grant and their son James.
It was Comanche's third Sydney-Hobart win and Cooney's second, after buying the American-made, Verdier Yacht Design & VPLP-designed yacht from US billionaire Jim Clark and his Australian supermodel wife Kristy Hinze, who won the race in 2015.
Cooney's first win was marred by controversy.
He won the 2017 race in the protest room after the first boat over the line, Wild Oats, was stripped of its line honours win over a controversial manoeuvre just minutes after the start.
This time Comanche's dominance was clear.
As well as holding the Sydney-Hobart record of 1 day 9 hours 15 minutes 24 seconds, Comanche has also broken the Transpac race record, the Transatlantic record, won the Fastnet yacht race, and claimed a clean sweep in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.
UPDATE 7.30AM: The gun has fired and race-record holder Comanche has won its third line honours in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
The crew on-board could be seen hugging and clapping as they crossed the line about 7.30am.
The race time was 1 day and 18 minutes.
Infotrack is in second place followed by Black Jack and Wild Oats XI.
7.15AM: A major celebration is in sight for Comanche which is just minutes away from the finish line.
Thousands of early risers are waiting to welcome the crew on the shores off Castray Esplanade.
EARLIER: The fickle winds of the River Derwent has left Sydney-Hobart race leader all but becalmed within sight of the finish line.
The red-hulled supermaxi rounded Tasman Island about 4am and rounded the Iron Pot at 5.50am at the mouth of the River Derwent.
After surging towards the line, the downwind flyer's barnstorming run has turned to a crawl just 3nm from the finish line.
The stiff north easterly on the East Coast of Tasmania has been replaced by a steady breeze in the Derwent on the final push to the line.
At its current speed, the Jim Clooney-owned supermaxi is expected to finish about 7am.
A short time ago Camanche led InfoTrack by 12 nautical miles with Black Jack and Wild Oats XI a further 7nm astern.
It will be owner Comanche's second win as first boat over the line.
It won in 2017 but only after Wild Oats XI was stripped of the title in a post-race protest.
OVERNIGHT: A CLASSIC sleigh ride down Tasmania's East Coast has race record holder Comanche poised to win its third line honours crown in one of the most intriguing Sydney to Hobart yacht races in the event's 75-year history.
After a frustrating second day at sea, when light air and wind-shifts bamboozled tacticians, frustrated skippers and saw an unprecedented five lead changes, Comanche locked onto a perfect north-easterly breeze and jumped back in front.
However, it could not break clear of fellow big boats InfoTrack, Scallywag, Black Jack and Wild Oats XI, with only 10 nautical miles separating the 100-footers and set the scene for a five-way supermaxi dice on the Derwent.
"It's a bit of cat and mouse out there at the moment and the strategies that are going on between the navigators is incredible," said Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore Paul Billingham.
"They are predicting up to 30 knots, which will make for some exhilarating riding at night.
"It could also be damaging to the boats so the crews will be looking to make sure their boats are maintained as well as going fast. If they get a great breeze and a good run, they could be here tomorrow morning, but at the moment I'm picking early afternoon."
Winner of the 628 nautical mile blue water classic in 2015 and taking the line honours/race record double in 2017, Comanche's skipper Jim Cooney stamped its authority on the race late in the day.
The conditions will suit the broad-sterner supermaxi.
"If it is heavy wind it tends to favour the heavier boats and the wider boats like Comanche and InfoTrack," Billingham said.
"Scallywag dropped out last year so we didn't really see what she was capable of.
"But she has been the surprise packet among the supermaxis with how she's gone this year."
After leading at 10.15pm on the opening night, nine-time line honours winner Wild Oats plummeted to 12th by morning. "She got caught in a couple of wind holes," Billingham said.
In the race for overall win on handicap, NSW yachts Ichi Ban and Quest were consistently in the top five, French invader Daguet also stayed in contention while others came and went at the top of the leaderboard.
The little-known 72-footer URM, formerly Shockwave built for Neville Crichton, who won line honours with Alfa Romeo in 2009, spend much of day two as handicap leader.
Of the 157 yachts that started on Boxing Day, 155 were still racing.