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Record eyed in Sydney-Hobart race

SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — More than 100 yachts set sail Monday in the Sydney-Hobart race as favorable winds raised hopes for a record time in one of the world’s most punishing ocean events.

Fans gathered at coastal vantage points and on spectator boats in a sun-splashed Sydney Harbour, which hours earlier had been shrouded in a thick fog that halted all ferry traffic.

The starting cannon fired to release 109 yachts on the 628-nautical mile blue water classic.

Crews dashed to get out of the city’s harbor on the first leg of the race down Australia’s eastern coast and across the treacherous Bass Strait towards the finish line in the Tasmanian state capital.

A final weather briefing on race day predicted “fresh to strong” north to northeasterly winds in the next day or so, giving the fastest, 100-foot supermaxi yachts a chance to challenge Comanche’s 2017 record of one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds.

Mark Richards, skipper of nine-time line honors-winning supermaxi Wild Oats, said his crew was buoyant after preparing for exactly these conditions.

“We put all our eggs in one basket and we put all our money on black for a downwind forecast and we have ended up getting it,” he told public broadcaster ABC.

“I think Wild Oats is going to be very fast.”

“The world is going to find out who is the fastest boat downwind.”

Wild Oats is competing for line honors against three rival supermaxis: Andoo Comanche, last year’s line honors winner Black Jack and LawConnect.

Weather is a critical factor in the race, which was first held in 1945.

Though the supermaxis are expected to be powered by northerly winds to a quick finish as early as Tuesday, slower mid- to small-sized boats will still be in the water in the following days facing possible gales and changes in wind direction.

In 1998, when a deep depression exploded over the fleet in the Bass Strait, six men died, five boats sank and 55 sailors were rescued.

Black Jack took line honors last year after a tight tussle with LawConnect, ending years of frustrating near misses to cross the finish line on the River Derwent after two days, 12 hours, 37 minutes and 17 seconds.

Ichi Ban, which is not racing this year, was the 2021 winner of the overall handicap prize, which takes into account the yachts’ sizes.

The boat pipped rival Celestial in a race where dangerous waves and weather conditions saw many withdraw.

International boats are making a return after the race was canceled in 2020 for the first time due to the pandemic, and Covid hit the fleet last year.

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