Christian Beck receives the John H Illingworth Challenge Cup trophy.
Skipper Christian Beck receives the Cup for LawConnect's Sydney to Hobart line honours victory. Image by Ethan James/AAP PHOTOS
  • sailing

LawConnect hails ‘dream’ Sydney to Hobart underdog win

Ethan James December 28, 2023

Perennial bridesmaid LawConnect has claimed Sydney to Hobart line honours, coming from behind to pip fellow supermaxi Andoo Comanche by just 51 seconds.

LawConnect, runner-up in the past three events, edged across the River Derwent finish line in light winds shortly after 8am (AEDT) on Thursday.

It was the second-closest finish in Sydney to Hobart history after Condor of Bermuda beat Apollo by seven seconds in 1982.

LawConnect and Comanche, who were in a tight battle the whole race, each had their nose in front in the dying stages.

LawConnect and Andoo Comanche arriving at the finish line in Hobart.
 LawConnect and Andoo Comanche approach the finish line in Hobart’s River Derwent. Image by HANDOUT/ROLEX SYDNEY HOBART YACHT RACE 

Skipper and owner Christian Beck said his maiden line-honours win in the 628-nautical-mile bluewater event was a dream come true.

“They took the lead pretty close to the line and we thought there was no way we could get it back,” Beck said.

“A wind gust came around. It was a complete surprise.

“There were guys who couldn’t watch. It was very nerve-racking.”

Pre-race favourite and 2022 winner Comanche took the lead into the River Derwent after holding the advantage down Tasmania’s east coast on Wednesday night.

“It is pretty painful. We’ve got an amazing boat that should have won,” Comanche skipper and owner John Winning Jr said.

“The other guys sailed their guts out and left nothing on the table.

“They beat us with an underdog boat, those guys deserve all the praise they get.”

Andoo Comanche skipper John Winning Jr.
 Andoo Comanche skipper John Winning Jr is consoled after finishing second in the Sydney to Hobart. Image by Ethan James/AAP PHOTOS 

Winning Jr, whose two-year ownership of Comanche will come to an end after this race, lamented a slow start and getting caught in unexpected low pressure.

“It was one of the most epic finishes in probably any sailing race I know,” Winning Jr said.

“In the last three minutes I think the lead changed three times.”

Beck, who said he would return to defend the win, jokingly described LawConnect as a “s***box” compared to Comanche. 

“I know it looks good on TV, but you go up close … she’s rough as anything,” he said.

“Comanche is better in every way. The fact (our crew) can make that boat beat Comanche is amazing.”

There was drama near the finish line when a spectator catamaran sailed close to Comanche. 

Tasmania Police said a 57-year-old man from Hobart would be proceeded against for allegedly encroaching into an exclusion zone and breaching marine and safety regulations.

“Spectators on the water need to be mindful of their actions and ensure they remain at a safe distance from competitors and other vessels,” police said in a statement. 

LawConnect sailing master Tony Mutter (l) and skipper Christian Beck
 LawConnect sailing master Tony Mutter (left) and skipper Christian Beck are all smiles in Hobart. Image by Ethan James/AAP PHOTOS 

LawConnect sailing master Tony Mutter said competitors had to deal with spectator boats.

“It’s pretty fair that everyone had troubles with the spectator boats. That’s part of it when it’s so busy,” he said.

LawConnect arrived in Hobart with a red protest flag flying after they slowed for 30 minutes earlier in the race for Comanche, who they believed was in distress.

Mutter said they didn’t assert any wrongdoing on Comanche’s part. 

LawConnect finished in one day, 19 hours, three minutes and 58 seconds. 

They were first out of the Heads in Sydney during a dramatic opening day, which included the retirement of fellow supermaxi SHK Scallywag because of a broken bow sprit.

Twelve of the race’s starting 103-strong fleet have pulled the pin, with some reporting damage and seasickness after a challenging thunderstorm on the first night.

Attention turns to the overall honours decided on handicap, with Tasmanian 2018 winner Alive in the early box seat after finishing on Thursday night. 

More than 80 yachts remain at sea.