After Wild Oats XI made a blistering start to lead the reduced Sydney to Hobart fleet of 76 yachts out of the Heads, Adrienne Cahalan - as navigator, the brains trust to plotting the quickest line to the finish - refused to talk up their chances of a race record beyond saying it was a ''possibility''.
However, Cahalan, sailing in her 21st Sydney to Hobart, did rate the super maxi's start as probably one of their best.
''We got a good start. We were right on line and we were where we wanted to be, but I think it would probably be one of our best starts for the Hobart [race],'' Cahalan said soon after Wild Oats XI passed Coalcliff, just north of Wollongong on the NSW coast.
Cahalan has stayed cautious on Wild Oats XI's chances of bettering her 2005 race record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds since the Bureau of Meteorology forecast the southerly for Wednesday's start, followed by north-easterlies and then a westerly and a second southerly.
But in the 20-knot southerly that blew for the race start, Wild Oats XI found incredible speed and was soon on record pace.
Cahalan was impressed by Wild Oats XI's start, despite Ragamuffin Loyal, last year's line-honours winner as Investec Loyal, crossing the line first after breaking the line early. However, it avoided a penalty because official advice of the foul was not given according to procedure.
Cahalan clocked Wild Oats XI passing the Junction Bell in Sydney Harbour just four minutes after the 1pm start (3pm NZ time). Wild Oats XI sailed out from the Heads and soon had 1½ minute's lead on Ragamuffin Loyal, followed by Peter Harburg's Black Jack, Stephen Ainsworth's Loki, which won on corrected time last year, and Peter Millard's Lahana. Last past the Heads was the Bob Steel-owned Quest in pursuit of Peter Rodger's She and Sean Langman's Maluka of Kermandie in third-last place. One absentee was Grant Wharington's Wild Thing, which had been excluded from the fleet three hours earlier by the race committee after he failed to comply with race laws that required the submission of documents validating modifications on the yacht.
It was still a rapid exit by the final fleet, with all yachts having sailed from the harbour within 20 minutes of the race having started in sunny skies. But Wild Oats passed the seamark, or second mark, before the last turn south in little more than 11 minutes against 12 minutes last year.
However, several hours later, as Wild Oats XI approached Wollongong, Cahalan was still reluctant champion a race record.
''We are only doing 12½ knots here. The record for us is a possibility. There is a lot [that has] to come together before we are close to that,'' Cahalan said. ''The basic structure is there, but a lot has to do when that [westerly] front comes through as well on late Thursday or early Friday.''
As Cahalan spoke and dusk fell, she said the lumpy seas had begun to calm. ''It's still pretty bumpy out here, still quite rough, even though the winds have moderated down to about 17 knots. It's pretty uncomfortable. But it's manageable … it's a normal Hobart.''
At midnight (NZ time), Wild Oats XI with Mark Richards at the helm was 20 nautical miles south of Jervis Bay with 4.3 nautical miles on her main rival, the Syd Fischer skippered maxi yacht Ragamuffin-Loyal in second place on line honours. The rest of the top 10 were Lahana (Peter Millard) at 10 miles to Wild Oats XI, Ichi Ban (owned by Matt Allen) at 16 miles, Black Jack (Peter Harburg) at 19 miles, Loki (Stephen Ainsworth) at 22 miles, Brindabella (Jim Cooney) at 28 miles, Living Doll (Michael Hiatt) at 29 miles, while Ambersail (Simonas Steponavieius) had moved up from 10th to ninth at 21 miles and Jazz (Chris Bull) had dropped from ninth to 10th place at 30.5 miles.
-Fairfax News Australia