Despite dangerous seas and serious damage, a boat built by Hodgdon Yachts in East Boothbay finished first Monday in one of the world’s most difficult yacht races.

It’s the first time that a Maine-built boat – and the first time since 1998 that an American vessel – has won line honors in the prestigious Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, a 628-nautical-mile offshore sail from Sydney, Australia, to Hobart, Tasmania. The Comanche forged through violent winds off the Bass Strait to cross the Tasmanian Sea in two days, 8 hours, 58 minutes and 30 seconds.

The 100-foot monohull, known as a “supermaxi” for its length, is owned by billionaire Netscape founder Jim Clark and his wife, former Australian supermodel Kristy Hinze-Clark, who was at the wheel as it crossed the finish line just before 10 p.m. in Hobart.

On the other side of the globe, in Maine, Timothy Hodgdon, president of the six-generation boat-building company founded in 1816, had been tracking the race online since it started Saturday. It was around 5 a.m. EST Monday when he saw that Comanche had finished first, triumphing over foul weather that forced about 29 of 108 boats to drop out the first night.

“It’s a major accomplishment,” Hodgdon said. “As rough and as rotten as it was, and to get her back on line and finish first, this is a fantastic accomplishment by a global team and a boat built right here in Maine.”

Hodgdon marveled that Comanche’s 19-member crew, led by Capt. Ken Read, fixed a damaged rudder and daggerboard in the middle of the night and resumed the race. Before it was repaired, Comanche actually dropped its sails and drifted back toward Sydney for about 30 nautical miles, according to the race website.

Another American yacht, Rambler, finished third in the race at 8:52 a.m. Tuesday, pulling into Hobart with a time of two days, 19 hours, 51 minutes and 42 seconds. Ragamuffin 100, out of New South Wales, finished second with a time of two days, 19 hours, 47 minutes and 30 seconds. The race record is less than two days.


The Sydney-to-Hobart race is one of the top three offshore races in the world, along with the 608-nautical-mile Fastnet Race off the coast of England and the 635-nautical-mile Newport-to-Bermuda Race.

The Australian race attracts yachtsmen from around the globe, but it’s most popular among spectators in New South Wales, where it’s held every Boxing Day, a gift-giving holiday that’s celebrated the day after Christmas. This year’s race offered the toughest conditions since 2004, when 58 of 117 boats dropped out, according to the race website.

“Some very rough conditions can be met in that race, especially across from the Bass Strait, and the sailors are pushing the boats to their limits,” said Jim Brady of Yarmouth, who was a member of the U.S. team that won a silver medal in sailing in the 1992 Olympics.

Launched in September 2014, the high-tech Comanche set a world monohull record last summer when it traveled just over 618 nautical miles in 24 hours during the Transatlantic Race 2015, Hodgdon said.

“This vessel pushes the envelope in all kinds of directions,” Hodgdon said. “Every aspect of this project was sophisticated and complex.”

Designed by VPLP, a renowned French naval architecture firm, Comanche was intended to be the fastest vessel of its kind. It has an extremely light, carbon-fiber hull, large sails and a canting keel, daggerboards and water ballast. It took 13 months to build, and involved as many as 100 people, including several subcontractors in Maine, Hodgdon said.

“It was a massive collaborative effort,” he said, noting that owner Jim Clark, “a world-class yachtsman,” stopped by the boatyard a few times to monitor progress.

The boatyard in East Boothbay was “a logical place to build that boat,” Hodgdon said, based on its experience working with composite materials and marine painting, systems and engineering. Hodgdon also has the largest marine oven in the United States.


Hodgdon Yachts employs 130 people in its various divisions and builds four or five boats each year. It has launched more than 400 vessels – about 150 of them “world class” – in its nearly 200-year history. But Hodgdon, 60, declined to characterize Comanche’s success as a high point for the boatyard or his boat-building career.

“There’s a lot of things this company has done,” Hodgdon said. Among them was building 12 military patrol boats during the Korean War and a 154-foot luxury ketch called the Scheherazade that wowed many when it was launched in 2003. More recently, the company has expanded to offices in Newport, Rhode Island, and Monte Carlo, Monaco.

This was Comanche’s second attempt at the Sydney-to-Hobart race. Last year, “fresh out of her wrapping,” Comanche finished second after Wild Oats XI thanks to “light winds in Bass Strait and little time on the water,” according to the race website. Wild Oats XI – which holds the race record, finishing the 2012 challenge in one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds – dropped out of this year’s race.

Hodgdon found himself engrossed in the race website over the past few days, reading stories, tracking the front-runners and watching videos of various highlights of the competition. Comanche looked great from the start as the supermaxi sailed out of Sydney Harbor.

“It just took off like a rocket ship,” Hodgdon said. “The start was impressive.”

As the race wore on and Comanche stalled, Hodgdon remained hopeful that its capable crew and the yacht launched at his family’s boatyard on the Damariscotta River would turn things around.

“You never know,” Hodgdon said. “As grueling as this race is, it’s not in the bag until you cross the finish line.”