The Sydney to Hobart race experienced one of its most exciting and eventful starts in memory with a classic supermaxi duel, a protest from one of the line honours favourites and two early retirements.
Line honours favourite Wild Oats XI won bragging rights as the first boat through Sydney Heads but only after some still unresolved drama.
Rival supermaxi and race debutante Perpetual LOYAL looked to have the inside running on Wild Oats XI approaching the first mark.
Perpetual LOYAL seemed to hesitate, with some commentators suggesting she might have been confused over which marking buoy to round.
Wild Oats XI, going for a record-equalling seventh line honours title swept past the Sydney to Hobart rookie to be first to exit Sydney Harbour and turn south, followed by new 80-foot Hong Kong yacht Beau Geste and then Perpetual LOYAL.
Perpetual LOYAL raised a protest flag soon after, though the reason for it wasn’t immediately clear.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Howard Piggott said he wouldn’t know the cause for the protest until Perpetual LOYAL gave a report to JBW, the race’s radio relay vessel.
“We have to wait to the 19.05pm sked and she will then notify the JBW that she had a protest flag displayed,” Piggott said.
The race fleet of 94 was quickly reduced by two with Audi Sunshine Coast and Dodo retiring.
Queensland 50-footer Audi Sunshine Coast was forced out inside the first 30 minutes with rig damage, completing an unfortunate double. It was also the first boat out of last month’s Cabbage Tree Island Race.
“The code zero masthead fitting failed and the halyard tore down the side of the mast to the hounds fitting,” owner and skipper Rod Jones said.
“I felt it wasn’t prudent to continue…
“I feel subdued, very disappointed, but the world moves on.”
Sydney-based 52-footer Dodo had to pull out with mainsail damage.
Fears of a rainy start to the race were allayed, as the sun broke through around an hour before the start and the fleet set sail in 15 to 18 knot southerly winds.
Supermaxi Ragamuffin 100 was right up there alongside Wild Oats XI and Perpetual LOYAL at the start.
The 1997 line honours winner, maxi Brindabella, broke the start and had to turn back and go around again.
GREAT Britain was the first of the 12 Clipper Round the World boats through the Heads.