Race favourite Wild Oats XI is on track to smash its own record for the Sydney to Hobart yacht race as it crossed the treacherous Bass Strait on Thursday.
The Mark Richards-skippered super-maxi was being pushed along by strong northerly winds and reaching speeds of 24 knots at 3pm AET (5pm, NZ time) with about 240 nautical miles to reach the finish line in Tasmania.
They were about 33 nautical miles ahead of last year's winner Ragamuffin Loyal.
Projections show a Friday morning finish at Constitution Dock in Hobart on the island state of Tasmania.
Wild Oats set the record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds in 2005 when they not only took line honours but also won the overall handicap title in the 628-nautical-mile (1163-kilometre) race.
Wild Oats are seeking their sixth victory in the 628-nautical mile blue water classic, though must be wary of Ragamuffin, who reduced a similar-sized gap last year before they were engaged in the tight tacking duel on the Derwent River in the approach to the finish.
Ragamuffin won the race last year by less than three minutes and Wild Oats had retooled their yacht for this year's race, using a massive new headsail and making modifications to the keel to help them increase speed in lighter winds.
The start of this year's race on Wednesday had been shrouded in controversy with the exclusion of 2003 line honours winner Wild Thing for failing to provide necessary documentation for modifications to the boat.
The top five boats for line honors were Wild Oats XI, Ragamuffin Loyal, Lahana, Black Jack and last year's overall handicap winner Loki.
- AP and Reuters