Comanche looms as an early favourite for line honours.
Comanche looms as an early favourite for line honours.

Comanche hopes downplayed by experts

COMANCHE is the favourite to take Sydney to Hobart line honours but connections of most of her supermaxi rivals are tipping eight-time winner Wild Oats XI as the boat to beat.

A fleet of 85 will start on Boxing Day, with five supermaxis vying for line honours and plenty of quality contenders tussling for a handicap win.

No excessive winds are forecast for a race in which Comanche and Wild Oats XI will continue their rivalry, while having to be wary of the other supermaxis Black Jack, InforTrack and Sun Hung Kai Scallywag.

Wild Oats XI crossed the line first last year but was relegated after Comanche lodged a successful protest following a near collision early in the race.

Comanche has enjoyed a string of line honours victories in recent months, with the Oatley family's much loved boat still very competitive and highly regarded heading into the 74th Sydney to Hobart.

But rivals think otherwise.

 

Supermaxi Comanche on her way to victory in last year’s Sydney to Hobart: Pic: Stefano Gattini/Rolex.
Supermaxi Comanche on her way to victory in last year’s Sydney to Hobart: Pic: Stefano Gattini/Rolex.

WHAT: 2018 Sydney to Hobart race

WHERE: starting from Sydney Harbour

WHEN: 12pm AEST

"Forget about Comanche, Oats are the boat to beat," said David Witt, skipper of Hong Kong's Sun Hung Kai Scallywag, the only supermaxi from outside Australia and last remaining one from the group to achieve line honours in the race.

"You beat Oats you win," Witt said.

Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford expressed similar sentiments.

"This race has been the same since 2005, there's one boat to beat, that's Wild Oats," Bradford said.

InfoTrack owner Christina Beck was another to favour Wild Oats XI.

"I'd say it's a great forecast for Wild Oats, I'd put my money on that one to be honest, it's not bad for Comanche, it's pretty good for Black Jack," Beck said.

"I think our issue is it's not heavy enough for us."

Wild Oats XI shapes as a legitimate threat for line honours. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Wild Oats XI shapes as a legitimate threat for line honours. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

Wild Oats XI has some new sails and skipper Mark Richards believes his boat is going faster than ever and will be hard to catch, but regards Comanche as their main threat.

"My biggest concern in this race is still Comanche by far," Richards said.

"The wind has only got to change five degrees and all of a sudden it goes from our sector to their sector." While there's unlikely to be too many of the strong winds favoured by Comanche's Jim Cooney, the skipper is confident there will be sufficient breeze to give his boat a good push.

"I think this (forecast) is fine, anything above 15 knots we'll get our boat up and flying," Cooney said.

"I don't see a race record on the table in this forecast but I do see a safe race and a fairly quick race."

Safety has improved vastly in the 20 years since the infamous 1998 race in which six lives were lost and five boats sank.

A tribute to those lost in that race will be made at 5pm (AEST) on December 27 with the words of then commodore Hugo Van Kretschmar at the memorial service repeated by a race radio vessel official.

Matt Allen's 52-foot Ichi Ban is favoured to become the first boat in over 50 years to take back-to-back handicap honours.

She faces plenty of quality opposition in the mid-range of the fleet, with France's Teasing Machine and America's Privateer heading the 11-boat overseas challenge.

News Corp Australia

Play that funky Balkan music

Play that funky Balkan music

Musical Macedonian mayhem is on the menu in the hinterland on November 23.

Old ‘duct tape’ doors see new life

Old ‘duct tape’ doors see new life

Cooroy Memorial Hall has a brand new set of doors opening the way for its role as...

Oh so colourful fun at Under 8s day

Oh so colourful fun at Under 8s day

If a picture paints a thousand words, then there are millions of reasons to...