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December 28, 2015

Comanche Takes Hobart Line Honors

Forget spectator boats. How cool is it to be escorted into Hobart by a fleet of dolphins? Comanche’s effort to hang in for the win is one for the record books. 

© 2015 Rolex / Kurt Arrigo

The Rolex Sydney to Hobart — one of the greatest spectacles in all of yachting — is always a thriller, and the 2015 event was one of the most exciting in recent memory. Consistently attracting a world-class fleet of racing yachts replete with 100-ft supermaxis, breeze from nearly every direction and velocity, and huge crowds of spectators at both the start and finish, the race has become the stuff of legend. For 2015, the 71st edition has become an instant classic with story lines that even a Hollywood screenplay writer would struggle to write. The bulk of the 108-strong fleet lit the afterburners off the start, propelled down the New South Wales coast by a brisk nor’easter before being decimated by a classic Southerly Buster. In the aftermath of that front, the reigning champion Wild Oats XI was knocked out with one punch while a duo of American boats — both damaged by the same storm front — swooped in to steal the show. 

When Jim and Kristy Clark’s big black 100-ft VPLP/ Verdier-designed supermaxi Comanche sailed into Hobart at the head of the fleet, her crew completed a story that will go down in the annals of yacht racing history and be told for decades to come. Having sustained damage to both the port daggerboard and rudder, skipper Ken Read (of North Sails and Volvo Ocean Race fame) initially reported to owner Jim Clark and the race committee that Comanche‘s race was over, as the steering system had been "shattered" and the boat was drifting downwind, back toward Sydney in the 40-knot southerly. Co-owner Kristy Clark inquired if the yacht could still win while much of the crew reached for the onboard tool kit, inspiring Read to make the now-famous quote, "We’re going to finish this damned race… even if we have to paddle the boat into Hobart."

Comanche co-owner Kristy Hinze-Clark accepts a Rolex Yacht-Master II watch after her boat’s remarkable, never-say-die finish. Center is Jim Clark; skipper Ken Read holds the cup. 

© 2015 Rolex / Kurt Arrigo

Some thirteen hours after effecting emergency repairs and deciding to resume racing, Comanche had reclaimed the lead from American George David’s new Juan K-designed Rambler 88, which had also lost a daggerboard to a collision with a presumably submerged object. Sailing upwind on port tack — her "good" tack — the bigger, faster Comanche was able to pull away from the "little" 88-footer. Navigated by famed Bay Area product Stan Honey, the VPLP 100 managed to sail into better pressure than her smaller rival, claiming her historic line honors victory in just under 2 days and 9 hours, some 14 and a half hours off Wild Oats XI’s 2012 record pace. Upon reaching the dock in Hobart, Tasmania, skipper Read, co-owner Kristy Clark, navigator Honey, helmsman Jimmy Spithill and the rest of the Comanche crew were mobbed by a spectator and media presence that had to be seen to be believed.

As this article is posted, Rambler 88 is engaged in a close battle with Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin 100, the only one of the Australian supermaxis to survive the attrition-filled race. Separated by less than a mile and sailing in the fickle breezes of the River Derwent, both yachts are battling in slow motion to see who can claim second-place line honors. Having just crossed Bass Strait, Eric De Turckheim’s French-flagged Archambault 13 Teasing Machine currently leads the fleet overall on handicap honors, though this is likely to change before the 44-footer reaches Hobart sometime tomorrow.

Smokin! George David’s Rambler 88 surfs south toward Tasmania not long after leaving Sydney Harbour. 

© 2015 Rolex / Stefano Gattini

Stay tuned for further updates here and on the Rolex Sydney to Hobart website, as the bulk of the fleet still has a lot of race track before them and anything could happen.

Keeping a Lookout

As every experienced sailor knows, bad things can happen when you don’t — or aren’t able to — keep a constant lookout while underway. Here’s a great example of that, pulled from our email box today. 

As regular readers know, we’ve been following the solo nonstop circumnavigation of Washington state-based sailor Jeff Hartjoy, 69, whom we count among our sailing heros. In his thrice-weekly blog posts he describes sailing conditions that few West Coast sailors would relish, at least not day after day after day. On Christmas morning things were going pretty well aboard Jeff’s Baba 40 Sailors Run. Winds had downshifted from 40 to 30 knots and he was looking forward to a nice big breakfast. Having cleaned up the mess after a pot of coffee was launched across the cabin by a "rogue" wave, he decided to go up on deck and have a look around.

In this file photo of Jeff Hartjoy, he seems to be saying, "Whew! I cheated death yet again." Cheers to you Jeff. Be safe out there. 

Sailors Run
©2015Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"I pushed open the double companionway doors and felt I had entered the world of Oz, as right before my eyes was a huge iceberg, more than a mile long and some 800 feet high. My knees shook as I gazed in disbelief as we were already past it and could have just as easily T-boned the thing. It appeared to be about a mile away."

To save power, he does not run radar constantly, but once he got it up and running, he found that it was actually four miles away, "but its enormous size made it seem much closer." The ketch’s track showed that she had passed within two miles of it, a safe distance, but a bit too close for comfort nonetheless. "We had truly lucked out," says Jeff. "I thought I was north of the icebergs as the ones I have the locations on, are all 200 miles to the south of me, from now on the radar stays on 24/7."

You can follow Jeff’s often-humorous, sometimes-frightening posts here. And join us in keeping our fingers crossed that he arrives back in Ecuador safely — sometime around his 70th birthday in April.

Trade Fair Spotlights Maritime Careers

Opportunities for maritime careers in the Bay Area may be slowly diminishing, but apparently that’s not true everywhere on the West Coast. Need for marine industry employees in the Northwest has prompted the Northwest Marine Trade Association to host a free Marine Career Fair at the Seattle Boat Show on February 1, during which 25 local marine-related businesses will attempt to fill more than 75 full-time positions as well as many seasonal jobs. 

According the NMTA, the Northwest has experienced its fourth year in a row with year-over-year increases in new boat sales, and the trend has trickled down to related businesses such as yacht outfitters, boat builders and boat yards. According to a recent NMTA release, "The immediate openings are for all facets of business such as sales, customer service, administration, some seasonal, but most of the need and open positions are for skilled marine technicians, experienced mechanics and skilled laborers (fiberglass work and repair, welding, glazing, rigging, painting)."

Even more eye-opening is the statement that the average annual salary before benefits of maritime industry employees in Washington state is $70,800. That’s more than $20k higher than the average wage statewide.

For a complete list of participating companies, see this link. Make note that the fair is only open from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on February 1 only, and precedes the normal opening of the show that day (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.). As an added incentive, fair attendees will get free admission to the show that day.  

Now celebrating its 69th year, the Seattle Show is one of the premier events of its type on the West Coast. Latitude 38 staffers have been presenting seminars there for years on the Baja Ha-Ha and Pacific Puddle Jump rallies. This year our programs will be presented at the same time on both January 30 and 31: BHH at noon, and PPJ at 1 p.m. You’ll find a complete list of all 200 free seminars here. We hope to see you there.