Sydney Harbour was showcased in all its splendour for the start of the 64th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race this afternoon when 100 boats set off from two start lines north of Shark Island on a perfect Sydney summer afternoon.
In a 12 knot northeasterly breeze and with the drone of a dozen helicopters overhead, the huge fleet made allowance for the outgoing tide and managed a clean start from both lines with Wild Oats XI charging to Sydney Heads in clear air ahead of Grant WHARINGTON's former line honours winner Skandia.
Just a shade over 16 minutes following the 13:00 blast of cannon fire, things became interesting at the sea mark for the front runner when the largest spectator fleet in many years converged on the 98-foot Wild Oats XI in all manner of craft, including a couple of audacious A class Hobie sailors.
With a possible record fourth consecutive line honours win up for grabs, a steely-faced Mark RICHARDS was able to carefully guide Wild Oats XI through the flotilla and the ocean that had become a washing machine to get away without incident, although there were a few nervous looks from the crew.
Skandia was second to the sea mark followed by the Mark BRADFORD skippered Black Jack from Queensland setting off on its debut Rolex Sydney Hobart with high expectations.
Amongst the 50 footers, Graeme WOOD's Wot Now won the start, pacing itself alongside Skandia before the larger Loki (Stephen AINSWORTH) and Limit (Alan BRIERTY) climbed over the top of the bold TP52.
Amongst the pre-start nerves there was still interest from the crew of Sanyo Maris as to the current cricket score and on board Optimus Prime there was time for the crew to grab some quick happy snaps as Mark Richards powered past them on a practice run from his favourite end of the line, the pin end.
This afternoon the leading boats are surfing south along the New South Wales coast off Port Kembla ahead of a 22 knot northeaster with Wild Oats XI and Skandia humming along on 19 knots of boat speed.
Last out of Sydney Harbour this afternoon was the big Cruising division entry Pachamama behind Sanyo Maris, Sean LANGMAN's Maluka of Kermandie and the second smallest in the 100-strong fleet, Nest Property from Tasmania.
Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - www.rolexsydneyhobart.com