Four 100-footer supermaxis are among the 102 entries in the 73rd edition of the 628-nautical mile bluewater classic, viewed as one of the toughest yacht races in the world.
The big boats benefited from the light east to south-easterly winds as they sped out of the harbour in the spectacular Boxing Day launch to the event.
Black Jack was followed by fellow supermaxi favourites Wild Oats XI and LDV Comanche, with the pair sparking early drama after almost colliding.
Wild Oats appeared to tack too close to its rival near the exit to Sydney Heads, leading to a protest from Comanche.
Earlier, Wild Oats supermaxi tactician Iain Murray told reporters before the start of the race of the wind conditions that “in all my 24 times of going down here, it’s never been as good as this”.
“It’s very rare that you get this continually off-the-wind, cross-the-wind, wind start-to-finish sort of scenario, it’s something we all dream about really.”
Murray said with the superyachts – Comanche, Wild Oats, Black Jack and InfoTrack – capable to reaching up to 20 knots, a new line honours record for the fastest vessel could be possible.
Australian supermaxi Perpetual Loyal, renamed to InfoTrack this year under new owner Christian Beck, arrived at Hobart’s Constitution Dock in a record time of one day 13hr 31min 20sec last year.
“The numbers suggest a race record is easily achievable for I think any of the maxi boats,” Murray added.
“These boats are capable of 20 knots. The current record is 17 something. It’s just getting around the corners is the hard part.”
A big unknown will be the conditions on the Derwent in Hobart, a fickle river that could offer up windless holes that can halt a boat for hours.
The super maxis are expected to arrive at Storm Bay late tomorrow afternoon (Dec 27), and into the Derwent leading to Constitution Dock at night.
“We’re looking forward to some terrific sailing,” Comanche navigator Stan Honey said.
“The dicey part happens after Tasman Island... We get to the Derwent at the worst time.”
This is the strongest line-up of supermaxis to contest the Sydney to Hobart, with all four having won line honours in previous races.
Eight-time winner Wild Oats is hoping to make it third time lucky after being forced to retire from the last two races.
The forecast continues to favour the medium-sized 45 to 55-foot boats, as well as the Oatley family’s smaller entry Wild Oats X in the race for the Tattersall Cup.
The Cup is handicap honours for the vessel that performs best according to size.
This year’s race – which draws spectators on land and in boats in Sydney – has also attracted a record-equalling 27 internationals including from China, France, the United States and Italy.