The 2023 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race line honours battle is settled in the final gybe after one of the closest finishes in the race’s history, with Law Connect winning ahead of long-time leader Andoo Comanche.
Law Connect has won the 2023 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race line honours, after the closest finish in over 40 years, which ended in a gybe-for-gybe battle up the Derwent River against long-time leader Andoo Comanche.
Andoo Comanche held the advantage going into the Derwent with a two-mile lead, John Winning Jr’s crew crowded onto the bow in the light early morning winds to try and lift Comanche’s 8m beamy transom, which gives the yacht the nickname the ‘aircraft carrier’.
Law Connect followed up the Derwent River with a knot or two more breeze, and were able to close the gap some two miles from the finish line, but the waters outside Hobart were littered with glassy patches, and each boat repeatedly battled to maintain hull speed through windless holes.
After 628 miles of racing, the lead changed repeatedly in the final half hour, with Law Connect taking the advantage on the final gybe for the line to roll over the top of Andoo Comanche and cross the line ahead.
It was an exceptional display of light winds tactical match racing, with Law Connect helmsman Tony Mutter and tactician Chris Nicholson directing Christian Beck’s team to victory, after being 2nd on three previous years. Law Connect crossed the Castray Esplanade finish line in Hobart at 08.03.58am local time after 1 day 19 hours 03 minutes 58 seconds of racing.
Beck gave a self-deprecating speech after, praising the crew for their efforts on a boat he admitted was not as fast or well-funded as their rivals. “I honestly can’t believe it. I rated it about a 25% chance we’d win, so to win was just amazing.
“An hour ago we were about 3 miles behind Comanche, so to win – I still can’t believe it.”
Mixed 2023 Sydney Hobart Race
The 2023 edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart has so far seen truly mixed conditions. The Boxing Day start delivered its customary spectacle, as the three 100ft maxis led the fleet out of a packed Sydney Habour. Law Connect gave an impromptu demonstration of how to gybe a giant overlapping headsail after breaking a furling line that left them unable to tack around a turning mark, while Scallywag took penalty turns once in clear water after a port-starboard incident with Comanche shortly after the start.
Over the first two days of racing the fleet had to contend with electrical storms, squalls and severe sea states, as well as periods of light winds, and there have been 11 retirements so far. They included another line honours hopeful, the 100ft Scallywag, which had to retire after snapping the bowsprit in the first day of racing.
Other boats retired due to rigging damage, mainsail damage, and severe seasickness caused by the unpleasant sea state.
Most dramatically the double-handed entry Rum Rebellion retired after being knocked down and having a Man Overboard, who was safely recovered.
Co-skipper Shane Connelly reported that they were approximately 20 miles offshore on the first evening of the race, sailing under full main and spinnaker in 6-10 knots of wind, when the wind suddenly increased to over 16 knots with a ‘ferocious’ looking storm cloud approaching from behind.
The duo prepared to drop the spinnaker, but a micro-burst of wind hit the yacht, causing a knockdown. Connelly, who had gone forwards during the spinnaker drop, was thrown overboard but tethered, and as the boat righted was lifted back onboard. He reported after: “The safety drills and systems all worked and we could sort ourselves out”
The stormy conditions caused issues across the fleet on the first night. Aboard the Santa Cruz 72 Antipodes crew member Geoff Cropley reported this morning: “We had lightning and thunder for hours. Then there was a major wind shift which auto gybed the boat.
“The spinnaker got wrapped in the drop, along with spinnaker staysail. All the team was up and trying to untwist and get that down. It took us about 40 minutes. We were heading north-east and sailing backwards for a period of time.
“We’re now hunkered down with a reef in the main. There’s little bit of blue sky. It’s quite nice out here.”
Meanwhile the battle for IRC overall continues. IRC 1 contender Alive, a Reichel Pugh 66 with a talent-packed crew including Gavin Brady, Stu Bannatyne and legendary Australian navigator Adrienne Cahalan, a veteran of 30 Hobart races. Close behind them on the IRC rankings is Hobart grandee, Sean Langman on the Reichel Pugh 69 Moneypenny led IRC 0, while the S&S 34 Azzurro raced by Jessica Watson is fastest of the small boats on the current IRC rankings.