LISTEN TO TONY RAE TALK WITH ELLIOT SMITH ABOVE
Comanche skipper Jim Cooney is predicting a quick Sydney to Hobart yacht race but believes his 100-foot super maxi's line honours record will probably stand from last year.
The Bureau of Meteorology on Friday was forecasting light winds for the start of the December 26 race in Sydney Harbour, but stiff north to northeasterly gusts of up to 35 knots later in the day.
The 630-nautical-mile race (1,170 kilometres) takes the fleet, expected to be 86 yachts, down the southeastern Australian coast, across Bass Strait and into Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania.
"I think we're looking at a fairly quick race, but I'm not sure the record is in any danger at this stage because the winds are not as strong as they were last year," Cooney said. "I think unless that changes then we're probably not looking at record pace."
Kiwi sailor Tony Rae, who will be flying out on Christmas Day to make it to Sydney in time for the race, told Elliot Smith that testing has been going well.
"We've learnt a huge amount about the boat. The winches are powered this time."
He says it will come down to the weather in the end, but they are happy with how the boat has prepared.
Jimmy Spithill, who skippered last year, has been ruled out this time due to injury.
Rae says it is disappointing but imagines they will be able to cope.
"We've got some really good drivers on board, so we're able to cover that area pretty easily."
Comanche set the race record of 1 day, 9 hours, 15 minutes, 24 seconds while winning last year in controversial circumstances.
Super maxi Wild Oats XI, which has won line honours nine times, was stripped of the 2017 title following a protest over a controversial tack just minutes after the start.
Comanche lodged a protest over a near-collision with Wild Oats that occurred as the boats were leaving Sydney Harbour. An international jury imposed a one-hour penalty on Wild Oats XI, negating its winning margin which was 30 minutes ahead of Comanche.
Wild Oats XI approached Comanche on a port tack, while Comanche was on a starboard tack, giving Comanche the right of way under sailing's rules.
The near-miss was serious enough that Wild Oats XI navigator Ian Burns said that the crew had discussed taking a 720-degree penalty turn but decided it wasn't necessary.
A 720-degree turn would have cost Wild Oats XI a maximum of five minutes in race time which could have seen the yacht retain line honours and the race record.
Rae says that they hope to avoid a repeat of that situation this year.
There are 11 international entries, including Privateer, a Cookson 50-footer from the New York Yacht Cub skippered by Scott Innes-Jones, and France's Teasing Machine, a 54-footer owned and skippered by Eric De Turckheim.
The international contingent dropped by one Friday after Polish-crewed Kostaka Monster Project was unable to meet race paperwork requirements and had its entry rejected by the race committee.
Among the smaller boats will be 36-foot Midnight Rambler, owned by Ed Psaltis, whose AFR Midnight Rambler won the 1998 race in which six sailors died after a storm hit the fleet.