Perennial bridesmaid LawConnect has claimed Sydney to Hobart line honours, coming from behind to pip fellow supermaxi Andoo Comanche in a thrilling river finale.
LawConnect, runner-up in the past three events, crawled across the River Derwent finish line 51 seconds ahead of her rival not long after 8am (AEDT) on Thursday.
The pair, who were neck-and-neck the whole race, played cat-and-mouse in light winds as they neared the finish line.
LawConnect crossed less than a minute ahead of Comanche in the second-closest finish in the event’s history, winning with a time of 19 hours, three minutes and 58 seconds.
LawConnect skipper Christian Beck holds the trophy aloft after taking line honours in one of the most thrilling races in memory
LawConnect took the title after overtaking Andoo Comanche on the River Derwent with the finish line in sight (pictured)
Drama struck just before the finish when a catamaran spectator craft (circled) appeared to cross close to the side of Comanche
Comanche had taken a narrow lead into the River Derwent after holding the advantage down Tasmania’s east coast on Wednesday night.
But she was overtaken by her rival within sight of the finish and could lodge a protest over a shocking incident just metres from the finishing buoy.
A catamaran appeared to cross by the side of Comanche just before the finishing line, with the supermaxi crew seen venting their anger at the spectator craft.
After the win, victorious skipper and owner Christian Beck revealed he thought he and his crew were doomed to another second-placed finish.
‘We thought we’d definitely lost it, like, 15 minutes before because they [Comanche] were three miles ahead of us,’ he said.
LawConnect skipper and owner Christian Beck (pictured being thrown into the water after the win) described his boat as a ‘s**tbox’ compared to Comanche
Despite the drama with the spectator boat, Comanche skipper John Winning Jr refused to blame the incident for the loss
‘The boat, I jokingly call [it] a s**tbox, but compared to Comanche it honestly is a s**tbox.
‘I know it looks good on TV but if you go up close to the boat, it’s as rough as anything, and Comanche is a beautiful boat that’s better in every way.’
Comanche skipper John Winning Jr wasn’t blaming the incident with the catamaran for the stunning loss.
‘We should have been miles ahead of them with our boat,’ he said after the finish.
‘The conditions suited us, I think they just out-sailed us.’
LawConnect was first out of the Heads in Sydney on Boxing Day after a dramatic start to the 628-nautical mile bluewater classic and the retirement of fellow supermaxi SHK Scallywag.
The victory by LawConnect (pictured after the win) was the second-closest finish in the history of the bluewater classic, which was first held in 1945
The closest finish in Sydney to Hobart history came in 1982 when Condor of Bermuda beat Apollo by a mere seven seconds.
Comanche – the pre-race favourite – flew a protest flag just after the start, accusing fellow supermaxi SHK Scallywag of tacking too close to her as the pair made their way out.
Scallywag, which completed a protest turn as a result, was forced to retire roughly six hours into the race after breaking her bow sprit.
LawConnect triumphed despite a big setback when she lost her mainsail in wild weather during the first night of racing.
‘The first day went OK through the daylight hours and when nighttime came all hell broke loose,’ crew member Tony Mutter said.
Comanche (pictured with its bow in front) led the race going into the River Derwent but encountered a drama involving a spectator craft just metres from the finishing buoy
Eleven of the race’s starting 103-strong fleet have pulled the pin, with some reporting damage and seasickness in challenging conditions which included a thunderstorm on the first night.
LawConnect navigator Chris Lewis described the stormy seas as ‘wild’ with 180-degree wind shifts.
Moneypenny, URM Group and Alive are in a bunch about 90 nautical miles behind the two duelling leaders, with the third remaining supermaxi Wild Thing 100 further back in sixth.
URM Group has battled jib damage and lost her code zero spinnaker.
Shane Connelly, skipper of retired two-handed entrant Rum Rebellion, was briefly flung overboard on Boxing Day off the NSW coast in strong winds.
There may be further challenges for crews, with a strong wind warning in place on Thursday for waters off Tasmania’s east coast.