It is Boxing Day and the start of the Sydney-Hobart race. The weather has lived up to the prediction and the big boats have hit the Southerly Buster. Once through it the winds lighten and the small boats may catch up.



Sydney to Hobart: Wild Oats XI building its lead at the halfway mark as Comanche stalls


Wild Oats XI has started to break away from Comanche in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race but a change in the weather could favour the American supermaxi.

At the halfway point, Comanche has stalled in the light conditions to be one of the slowest vessels in the fleet.

Travelling at 12-15 knots – almost twice Comanche’s speed – Wild Oats XI has extended its lead to 27 nautical miles with the chasing pack a further 20 behind.

Race spokesman Jim Gale said Comanche was by no means out of the running.

“A lot depends on the strength of the breeze,” he said.

“It’s going to be down to which boat gets the best weather conditions for its design.”

Rachel McInerney from the weather bureau said the wind will pick up significantly overnight and into tomorrow.

“Around lunch time tomorrow, down the east coast of Tasmania we are expecting north-north-easterly winds of around 15 to 25 knots,” she said.

Stronger winds were expected to favour Comanche but the leading boats were not expected to round Tasman Island until early Sunday afternoon.

The race is expected to finish in the early evening.

Comanche was first out of the Sydney Heads and held its lead over Wild Oats running into a strong southerly that forced eight boats to retire.

But as the wind died down, Wild Oates hit the front off Gabo Island at about 10am AEDT Saturday and led the fleet into a becalmed Bass Strait.

Defending champion Wild Oats XI is striving for three straight wins and a record eight in total.

Wild Oats spokesman Rob Mundle said the crew was not taking anything for granted.

“That lead that Wild Oats XI has now could be eliminated very, very quickly,” he said.

It will be a three-boat finish, says Ragamuffin crew

Despite trailing the leaders, the crew of third-placed yacht Ragamuffin 100 said they were still in with a chance of winning the race.

Having slowed down to protect the their boat in heavy seas on Friday night, they said they predicted the wind would turn in their favour and deliver them to the mouth of the Derwent at the same time as the leaders.

“We believe the leaders are going to run into a hole and stop,” said sailing master David Witt.

“And our routing is telling us that it’s going to be very exciting and all three boats are going to arrive at Tasman Light [Tasman Island] at the same time.”

Witt’s boat was gaining on Comanche but not Wild Oats.

“We’re three knots quicker already and that’s just going to build over the next 10 to 12 hours,” he said.

Eight yachts withdraw after overnight battering

Overnight, hopes of reaching Hobart’s Constitution Dock were dashed for Supermaxi Perpetual Loyal and seven other crews.

Perpetual Loyal briefly led the race on Friday but was forced to retire with a damaged hull.

Race officials said it had a delaminating bow and would head back to Sydney for repairs.

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VIDEO: Former winner Perpetual Loyal retires damaged(ABC News)

Crewman Tom Slingsby said the yacht may have hit something at about 9:00pm before the hull started taking on water.

“We’re not exactly sure what happened. We were coming off some big waves, but we also could have hit something during the night when we were falling off these waves,” he said.

The fleet was battered by stiff southerly winds and rough seas until late on Friday night.

Former line honours winner Brindabella was among the casualties.

The 21-year-old maxi was forced to retire after it started taking on larger than normal quantities of water.

Brindabella’s sailing master, Brad Kellett, said the excess water was coming from damages to the yacht’s rudder bearings.

“We were just coming into our own after a risky tactical decision to go offshore paid off,” he said.

“No-one is hurt.”

Other yachts to retire were Triton, Tina of Melbourne, Bear Necessity, Occasional Coarse Language, Willyama and Last Tango.

More than 100 yachts remain in the 628-nautical-mile journey that will end on the River Derwent.