Wild Oats XI snatched the lead to keep alive its attempt at a record-equalling seventh line honours victory on day two of the Sydney to Hobart race.
As rival supermaxi Perpetual LOYAL fought to keep moving in light conditions, Wild Oats pounced, grabbing the lead on Friday afternoon and increasing it as both boats headed for Bass Strait.
Looking for a record-equalling seventh line honours win, Oats came within half a nautical mile of LOYAL to make the pass in northeasterly winds that dropped to just four knots southeast of Gabo Island.
“These uncharacteristic Hobart conditions really suit anything that’s light,” LOYAL skipper Anthony Bell said.
“We get up and boogie more at the 12-knot and advance mark so anything that’s much lighter … is always going to be a risk.”
Bell’s crew had fought valiantly to build a 13nm lead over Oats, who he beat in 2011, but conditions eventually caught up with his rebuilt boat.
“We’re just bobbing around out here,” he said.
“I’ve seen it windier in my two-year-old daughter’s indoor swimming classes.”
Late on Friday, Oats led LOYAL by 5nm and was 90nm south of Gabo Island.
Eighty-six-year-old Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin had consolidated in third spot, 10nm behind the leader.
Wild Thing (33nm behind) was fourth, followed by Giacomo (39nm) and Beau Geste (40nm).
Ragamuffin held the overall lead on handicap for much of Friday but that honour remained wide open.
Conditions on Saturday will prove vital, with LOYAL desperately looking to stay in touch before expected freshening northeasterlies.
But attention will also turn to the back of the 92-strong fleet, expected to hit punishing 30-40 knot southwesterlies in Bass Strait that have prompted a gale warning for Saturday night.
Bell said LOYAL would attempt to stay within 12-13 miles of its rival.
“The pressure may actually be back on the leading boat, particularly as they try and navigate their way in to the finality of the race,” Bell said.
“As long as we just stay in touch and do everything we can to keep the boat somewhere in strike, we’re definitely still aiming to win this race.”
Wild Oats XI owner Bob Oatley is trying to equal Morna/Kurrewa IV’s race record of seven line honours wins.
In her eight years of racing, Oats has been beaten to Hobart by just two boats, Alfa Romeo in 2009 and new arch rival Bell’s Investec LOYAL in 2011.
The leaders were expected in Hobart on Saturday night but their arrival time will depend heavily on how the conditions play out.