Sydney (AFP) - Newcomer Comanche was first out of the Sydney Heads in Australia's 70th annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race in good conditions on Friday, but forecasters have warned of tricky weather ahead.
The 100-foot Comanche was followed by fellow supermaxi and seven-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI as more than 100 yachts set off on the 628 nautical mile race down Australia's east coast to the southern island of Tasmania.
A southerly front assisted the boats out of Sydney Harbour but they have now turned south into what the Bureau of Meteorology had predicted would be a 20 to 28 knot offshore southerly on their way to Hobart.
"We're ready," Ken Read -- skipper of the wide-bodied and cutting-edge Comanche which is owned by Netscape co-founder Jim Clark and his model wife Kristy -- said shortly before the start of the race.
"To me it looks like a nice sailboat racing day. A little breezy, a little lumpy, but if our boat can't handle 25 knots and a little bit of bump then something's wrong."
Weather conditions are crucial for the Sydney to Hobart where boats can experience everything from towering waves and gale force winds to becalmed conditions in which they struggle to move at all.
"We hate the light stuff and certainly like the heavier stuff," said Anthony Bell, skipper of another of the five supermaxis in the race, Perpetual Loyal, before the race started at 0200 GMT.
The newly-hulled Australian entry Ragamuffin and American-owned Rio 100 make up the two other supermaxis, the biggest and fastest boats in the race.
A weather briefing at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia has suggested that by Friday afternoon the winds will be blowing at 20 to 30 knots, with choppy and uncomfortable seas.
"Going into a southerly on the first day is always a challenge, especially for the big boats," Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said earlier this week.
"We're going twice the speed of the smaller boats in those conditions, so it's a real challenge to keep the big boats in one piece."
The 70th Sydney to Hobart bluewater classic which runs down the east coast and across the Bass Strait into Hobart has drawn its biggest fleet since 1994 with 117, including 10 international entries.
The international contingent comes from New Zealand, the Cayman Islands, Britain, Poland, Germany and the United States.
Given the weather conditions, officials are not confident that the record for line honours, set by Wild Oats XI in 2012, of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds will be broken in this year's race.