This first night was always going to be the toughest part of the 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart - a southerly buster - 25 to 30 knot winds with big gusts against a south flowing current, in the pitch black of night.
The first victims were CEX Dolce, Pierre Gal and Doug Gayford’s modified Inglis 47, with a broken mast, and, sensationally, Wild Oats XI, at around 10pm.
A bitter ending for the defending line honours champion, Australia’s best hope against the rampaging Americans, Comanche and Rambler, and the most successful yacht ever in the race’s 71 year history.
She had torn her mainsail in a squall of 40 knots.
Minutes later another bombshell. Comanche radioed into the race officials at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia that she had suffered damage to a daggerboard and rudder and they were to retire. Skipper Ken Read decided to try and repair and press on, but his hopes of using this southerly to extend their lead were dashed.
Then another super maxi, Perpetual Loyal, pulled out with rudder damage, forlornly turning back towards Sydney as she did last year with delamination problems on the first evening. A devastating blow to owner Anthony Bell, who has ridden every emotion possible at the helm of the big black super maxi in recent years and exited the Harbour in the lead just yesterday afternoon.
Also Sydney bound are St Jude, Noel Cornish’s Sydney 47 (another rudder damaged) and Peter Wrigley and Andy Kearnan’s TP52 Koa, with steering issues.
In the midst of all this drama Rambler has seized the day. The American 88 footer is about to enter Bass Strait, 6 miles ahead of Comanche, with the last surviving Australian super maxi, Ragamuffin 100, a further 19 miles astern and the Giovanni Soldini skippered Maserati, just behind Syd Fischer’s boat.
If Rambler survives the final hours of this southerly unscathed, she will be well and truly sitting in the box seat when the winds lighten off and the huge wetted surface of the broad beamed Comanche comes into play.
CEX Dolce is heading to Jervis Bay after breaking her mast, while the other retired yachts are now making their way back to Sydney. All crews are well, and it is remarkable, a credit to the sailors and their boats, that after such a wild night, only 10 yachts have been forced out of the 71st edition of the race.
But as the bodies at the front of the fleet mount in this Agatha Christie of a race, there are bound to be more plot twists to come. And there were.
At 6.28am, Rob Drury’s Cookson 12 Pazazz retired with mainsail damage, James Whittle’s Hanse 495 Takani retired with rudder damage and was waiting to be towed by Water Police and Brindabella also reported mainsail damage and has retired, as she did last year. It is believed all three will head back to Sydney and all are safe. This leaves 95 boats racing.
To replay the race start, please CLICK HERE
By Jim Gale, RSHYR media