The 2018 Sydney to Hobart yacht race is officially under way with defending skipper Matt Allen declaring the battle for handicap honours wide open as a tricky end to the contest looms.
The super-maxis were heading past Bondi Beach shortly after 1.30pm on Wednesday in perfect conditions with the final boat passing through the Sydney Heads a quarter of an hour later.
Earlier, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) was abuzz with activity as crews made final preparations, before the cannon fired to announce the start of the blue-water classic.
The marina was crowded with families wishing their loved ones well for a journey to Hobart which, for the slower boats, can take several days.
The Bureau of Meteorology told crews of a moderate 10 to 15-knot north-easterly wind for the race start and sailors were pleased overall with the blue skies and a forecast top of 27 degrees.
"The conditions look great for us," Wild Oats X skipper Stacey Jackson said, predicting "nice sailing the whole way."
The 85-strong fleet will have a bit of help from the conditions once they head south after clearing the heads in the 74th edition of the blue-water classic.
It all slows down on Thursday morning, though, with the winners likely to be decided by race strategy and quick thinking on the water rather than pure speed as the race develops.
“The conditions have really been slowing down for the entire fleet,” said Allen, the owner and skipper of defending Tattersall Cup winner, the 52-footer Ichi Ban.
“So were really concerned that the transition we are going to get tomorrow and the 28th is really going to slow the whole fleet down.
“We might be the [handicap] favourite with the odds, but I think its really wide open for the overall winner of this years race.
Among the super maxis, Comanche and Wild Oats XI are favoured to be first to finish, while Teasing Machine and Ichi Ban are most likely to take overall handicap honours, according to the bookies.
The lead-up to the race has been challenging for some boats. Polish entrant Monster Project dealt with insurance issues and super maxi Scallywag tore its sails in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge warm-up event.
Most yachts, which are dotted around the city, left their moorings about 11am to make the start line.
The exclusion zone around the race path ends at 2.20pm
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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