Crosbie Lorimer takes a looks at Comanche, the 100ft super-maxi yacht that created such a stir at the last Rolex Sydney Hobart Race
“The design office were told specifically by me that if this boat wasn’t the worst rated boat in history they have failed,” Dr Jim Clark said about his new raceboat. Not exactly the sort of remark you might expect, perhaps, but Clark, founder of software company Netscape, is well known for his singular approach to his many sailing ventures.
For Clark, owner of the 295ft three-masted schooner Athena and the replica J Class Hanuman, the goal for his brand new 100ft super-maxi Comanche is first and foremost to break records.
At her first major outing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2014, she caused something of a stir, although she was pipped for line honours in the 650-mile offshore classic by the well-sorted and immaculately sailed Wild Oats XI.
Not surprising that Clark should look to his regular skipper Ken Read and the French design team collaboration of Verdier Design/VPLP to create his new master-blaster. Despite a punishing one-year timeline for the build team, project managers Tim Hacket and Brandon Linton worked with boat captain Casey Smith – all three were involved in Read’s previous Volvo campaign – to see the new boat launched on time from the Hodgdon Yard in Maine in late 2014, given an impressive first run in heavy airs and then put on a ship to Sydney.
Under sail, first impressions of Comanche inevitably draw comparisons with IMOCA 60s and the globe-circling multihulls in which the design team excels. With massive beam at the stern, long reverse sheer, the mast well aft of 50 per cent of the boat length, towering narrow mainsail and a long boom overhanging the stern, everything is built for speed when the wind is abaft the beam.
In anything above eight knots of true wind Comanche starts to move out of displacement mode and at 25° of heel she has the same wetted surface as the 100ft supermaxi Wild Oats XI – the more remarkable when you consider that you could fit two of Wild Oats’s sterns into Comanche’s.
Helming Comanche requires a different mindset, according to Read: “You sail the boat a bit like a multihull in a way, it’s so wide you rock it up on its ‘leeward hull’.”
The photos below show exactly what this remarkable yacht looks like on deck and below.
LOA 30.50m/100ft 0in
Beam 7.80m/25ft 6in
Draught 6.50m/21ft 4in
Mast height 46.00m/150ft 0in
Downwind sail area 1,022m2/11,000ft2
Upwind sail area 350m2/3,767ft2
Largest spinnaker 1,100m2/11,840ft2
IRC Rating 1.958
Designed by Verdier Design/VPLP
Built by Hodgdon Yachts, Maine, USA and Owner’s build team
Mast/boom Southern Spars
Sails North Sails
Foils Re Fraschini
Winch System Harken with Jon Williams
STERN Comanche’s beamy stern swiftly earned her the tag The Aircraft Carrier. Her optimum heel angle is anything over 20°, while at 25° she has the same wetted surface as Wild Oats XI. The fitting of an escape hatch and the liferaft stowage in her stern are a direct result of lessons learned from the capsize of Rambler in the 2011 Rolex Fastnet
MAST As with the IMOCA 60s, the mast is positioned well back in the boat; sited directly above the canting keel, the mast is deck-stepped on a triangulated mast post integrated into the same frame as the keelbox. Static loads on the mast base are in the order of 75 tonnes, increasing to 150 tonnes under sail
DEFLECTORS The 150ft (46m) four- spreader rig features two running backstays and three deflectors, precluding the need for checkstays for mast bend control, and also reducing windage and weight aloft. Mast height was limited to be able to pass under Sydney Harbour Bridge
COCKPIT AND WINCHES Sail handling is by grinder-powered Harken winches with customised drive shafts, grinder pedestals and gearboxes to cater for the substantial torque. The winch pedestals are placed inboard to permit stacking of up to four sails in the cockpit
WHEEL POSITION The steering pedestals can be moved to a position at the forward end of the cockpit (ringed), just behind a detachable hard dodger over the companionways, affording the helmsmen and crew maximum protection if required for long passages
DEFLECTOR RAMS The three deflectors controlling mast bend are trimmed by three hydraulic rams that work interactively. Although cheat sheets have been developed for basic settings, the crew is still exploring setting refinements for these
CANTING KEEL The canting keel is controlled by a 350kg titanium ram built by Cariboni. The keel can be swung 35° either side of centre and moved through the full arc in about 25 seconds. A secondary slave cylinder can be used to swing the keel if the primary ram fails
WATER BALLAST Manifolds, pipes and valves controlling water ballast are located behind the navstation bulkhead. Water ballast comprises 6.5 tonnes per side in three tanks on each flank. All pipework is built in carbon fibre
COMPASS The cheapest fitting on the boat is a card compass that would look more at home on a Laser. Though the helmsmen and trimmers use the digital read-outs, the rules require a card compass to be fitted, so the team went looking for the simplest and lightest
NAVIGATION STATION is located immediately behind the companionway bulkhead, also being the point from which all the boat’s electrics are controlled. The carbon fibre chart table can be tacked and the bench seat is long enough to allow the navigator to sleep or rest here if required
TACKING HEADS There are two concessions to ‘luxury’ aboard Comanche, one being a carbon fibre tray for six coffee cups and the other a carbon heads that can be tacked! No privacy for the latter, of course