Comanche takes line honours in Sydney-Hobart

Comanche in full flight (Twitter)
Comanche in full flight (Twitter)

Sydney - American yacht Comanche won line honours in Australia's gruelling Sydney to Hobart on Monday, staging a stunning recovery from damage which had nearly ended her race.

The supermaxi was first across the finish line in the 71st edition of the 628-nautical-mile course in 2 days, eight hours, 58 minutes and 30 seconds, organisers said.

The 100-footer blitzed the field in one of the roughest races of recent years, with more than 30 boats retiring after bad weather struck on the first night.

Co-owner Kristy Clark, the first female owner to take line honours in the blue water classic, said after the win there were many emotions at sea  including "pure terror at one stage".

"It's one of the best things I've ever done," she added in Hobart, where she was met by co-owner husband, Netscape founder Jim Clark.

Comanche had sustained damage in punishing winds which tore into the fleet off the New South Wales coast on Saturday night, shredding sails, damaging rudders and hulls and breaking one yacht's mast.

A savage southerly blasted the yachts, resulting in 32 of the 108 entries which began the race from Sydney Harbour on Saturday pulling out of the journey down Australia's east coast.

Among the casualties were two strong contenders for line honours - eight-times fastest finisher Wild Oats XI, forced back to Sydney after her mainsail ripped, and supermaxi Perpetual Loyal with rudder damage. 

Comanche was also damaged, hitting an unidentified submerged object which broke one of her twin rudders and a daggerboard.

Skipper Ken Read had initially considered retiring but "decided to punch on through" and running repairs were made to the boat.

"I don't care if we limp over the line. We are going to finish this damned race," he said ahead of the win.

Read praised his crew on Monday as hundreds gathered on the dock to welcome the yacht for "just the fact that we got this thing here in one piece when, probably, we shouldn't have".

Comanche finished runner-up for line honours to Wild Oats XI in her first Sydney to Hobart last year, and had been a hot favourite this year after setting a new 24-hour monohull record of 618.01 nautical miles in July.

Her biggest competition for line honours had been from fellow American yacht Rambler which also hit an object in the water on Saturday, sustaining similar damage.

"We have no idea what we hit, we couldn't see it," the yacht's navigator Andrew Cape said.

"It might have been marine life or flotsam, but it was a solid hit. It shook the boat."

But while Comanche kept extending her lead on Monday in good conditions, the 88-footer Rambler was slowed by a lack of breeze in the final stages of the race. Comanche crossed the line some 50 nautical miles ahead of Rambler.

In third position is Australian entry Ragamuffin 100, followed by the Giovanni Soldini-skippered Maserati, Chinese Whisper and Ichi Ban.

Sailors returning to Sydney on Sunday spoke of the terrifying conditions for this year's race, with winds of up to 40 knots.

"It was like hitting a wall of water; hitting you in the face, sea water, rain water - you couldn't tell," Julia Cooney, on board Brindabella, told The Australian newspaper. 

Ragamuffin 100 was revealed Monday as the latest of the supermaxis to be damaged, with the port daggerboard completely sheared off in the race organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

The race record, set by Wild Oats XI in 2012, is one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.

Comanche is the first American entry to take line honours since 1998.

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