Wild Oats XI on record Sydney to Hobart pace

GREAT START: Supermaxi yacht Wild Oats XI after the start of the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race in Sydney.
GREAT START: Supermaxi yacht Wild Oats XI after the start of the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race in Sydney.

Wild Oats XI capitalised on freshening northerly winds to extend her lead over rival super maxi Ragamuffin Loyal and reach race-record pace in the Sydney to Hobart this morning (NZ time).

The wind dropped to three knots around 1am (3am today, NZ time), but was blowing at 15 knots from the north several hours later.

As it increased, so did the lead of Wild Oats XI, who was powering along at 15 to 20 knots of boat speed.

By 11am (NZ time) the five-times line honours winner was around 18 nautical miles ahead of 2011 line honours champ Ragamuffin Loyal, with Lahana another 30 miles astern.

"Loyal were very close to us, particularly in the light airs. We were always watching them very closely," Wild Oats XI navigator Adrienne Cahalan said.

"We pulled away from them a little bit his morning, but we know that can change pretty easily."

More than 20 hours into the race and none of the fleet of 76 had retired.

Ragamuffin Loyal crew were not defeatist about the gap between themselves and the race leader.

"This time last year they were 25 miles in front," said Ragamuffin Loyal crew member Andrew Crowe.

He reported that the boat had a couple of minor gear failures, but they had fixed them.

Crowe said octogenarian skipper Syd Fischer was on deck cracking the whip.

Around 11am (NZ time) Wild Oats was on track to finish around 45 minutes inside her 2005 race record of one day 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds and was also leading on handicap.

"It (the race record) is certainly something to go for," Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards told Channel Nine.

"We're just going to go faster and faster as the day goes on today.

"Its going to be a great ride. It all depends on what happens with the southerly front at the other end."

While the northerlies were expected to keep pushing the leaders for much of the day, Cahalan already had one eye on the forecast change expected either late today or early tomorrow.

"We're just looking at our options ... how we're going to approach Tasmania and when and if we maybe take a couple of gybes," Cahalan said.

"The next big feature for us aside from the northerlies is the approaching front."

It wasn't a totally worry-free night for Richards and his crew.

"It was a pretty challenging night for the guys. We had a lot of sail changes, a lot of different conditions," Richards said.

"We did a bit of damage to one of our centreboards last night. We hit a log, I think, at fairly high speed and did a bit of damage there, but we've got that under control."

Lahana's Geoff Cropley reported bumpy swells and a washing machine sea state in the early hours of the morning when his boat broke the tack line on their code zero.

However, as the sun rose, competitors reported much more comfortable conditions.

"It's beautiful sailing, unlike a Hobart but that will change. It usually does," Ichi Ban navigator Richard Hudson said.