Drama strikes the start of the Sydney to Hobart as sailors brace for weather chaos in one of the world’s most dangerous races
LawConnect has emerged first from the Heads in an exciting and dramatic start to the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race on Boxing Day.
Rival supermaxi yachts SHK Scallywag and Andoo Comanche followed in that order as light winds made for a challenging start to the 628 nautical mile blue-water classic.
The drama unfolded when Comanche flew a protest flag and accused Scallywag of tacking too close to her as the pair made their way out.
If Comanche goes through with the protest, Scallywag will have to complete a penalty turn of 720 or risk being disqualified from a line honors win on arrival in Hobart.
After scattered showers disappeared just before the 1 p.m. starting signal, LawConnect was the fastest on its way.
The yacht Scallywag (pictured) was the subject of a protest from the Comanche, who accused his rival vessel of tacking too close to her at the start of the race on Boxing Day.
Comanche skipper Iain Murray is pictured right, at the helm of the vessel, just before the drama that marked the start of the race
But when she had a problem furling a sail just after the first marker out of the Heads, she turned towards the spectator fleet and fell behind Scallywag and Comanche.
LawConnect made the most of a change in the wind and started the journey up the NSW coast as the frontrunner.
Two-handed Currawong, the smallest boat in the fleet at 9.1 metres, finished last out of the Heads.
Sailors are wary of the danger posed by forecast thunderstorms, hail and gale-force winds during this year's race.
Widely regarded as one of the most challenging yacht races in the world, the event follows the east coast of Australia south from Sydney, crossing the Bass Strait, before continuing along the east coast of Tasmania, eventually reaching Hobart.
The Bureau of Meteorology, whose representatives briefed competitors ahead of the race, said there was a high degree of uncertainty over forecasts for the coming days.
LawConnect (right) defeated Scallywag and Comanche to get through the Sydney Heads first and take an early lead in the bluewater classic
Large crowds gathered at Hornby Lighthouse near Watsons Bay to watch the start of the race
“A trough and low pressure system over eastern Australia is slowly moving south-east and will reach the Tasman Sea later today or tomorrow,” an agency spokesperson said.
'Uncertainty remains as to its exact placement. Weather, wind and wave forecasts will depend on the location of this system.”
At the start of the race, participants were prepared for light easterly winds, the agency said, with a chance of showers or thunderstorms.
“The potential for thunderstorms increases along the NSW coast and over Sydney during the afternoon – with very erratic winds, hail, lightning and heavy rain potentially reducing visibility,” the agency said.
“There are likely to be strong wind warnings during the race, and there is a small risk of local gale force winds over Bass Strait on Tuesday evening.”
'Rain and thunderstorms are forecast throughout the race, mainly along the NSW coast and across Bass Strait, but are likely to be more active and widespread on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The field did not face high winds at the start of the race, but this is expected to change, with wild weather forecast as the field winds its way along the coast towards Bass Strait.
“These could reduce visibility, cause lightning, erratic winds and possibly even some hail.”
With Bass Strait often being the toughest part of the race, teams can expect bigger south-westerly swells and strong winds.
'This year, easterly winds and easterly swells are forecast, as well as thunderstorms, making conditions challenging on Tuesday and Wednesday. These conditions are expected to ease from later Wednesday,” the agency said.
About 113 ships will participate in the event this year.
The record for the race was set in 2017 by the LDV Comanche, a 30-metre maxi yacht, which completed the event in just over 33 hours.