Updated: 12/28/2013 12:17 | By Agence France-Presse

Wild Oats XI stretches Sydney to Hobart lead

Supermaxi Wild Oats XI looked set to take line honours for a seventh time in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race Saturday, after stretching its lead over rival Perpetual Loyal.


Wild Oats XI stretches Sydney to Hobart lead

Wild Oats Xl (R) and Beau Geste sail out of the Heads at the start of an annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race on December 26, 2013

Perpetual Loyal, a heavier and wider boat than Wild Oats XI and one more suitable for rough conditions, has struggled with the uncharacteristic lack of breeze in the ocean race and is more than 50 nautical miles behind the leader despite better conditions.

"We're just bobbing around here," Loyal's skipper Anthony Bell had complained late Friday.

"We have four knots across the deck. I've seen it windier in my two-year-old daughter's indoor swimming lessons."

With the boats now reaching speeds of up to 20 knots, Perpetual Loyal faces a challenge from the boats behind it, including fellow 100-footer Ragamuffin 100 which lags by about 10 nautical miles in third spot.

Further back in the 628 nautical mile race down the east coast of Australia which began on Boxing Day are two Volvo 70s, Black Jack and Giacomo along with the Hong Kong 80-footer Beau Geste.

With winds picking up, most of the mid-sized boats in the fleet should cross the strait under spinnaker before forecast gale force winds come through in the evening. However, the smaller and slower boats will bear the brunt of the rough weather as they make their crossing in subsequent hours.

Adrienne Cahalan, navigator on Wedgetail, said boats were positioning themselves so they could take best advantage of the northerly winds which are set to strengthen before swinging dramatically to the west later Saturday bringing gales and big seas.

"Today it is about planning our approach to Tasman Island and setting ourselves up to make the most of the strong northerlies before being in a good position to pick up the westerlies when the front arrives this evening," she said.

"It's great sailing out here -- 18 knots of wind under spinnaker and clear skies -- but we know the fleet is in for a beating tonight!"

Brindabella skipper Jim Cooney said his veteran maxi was prepared for the rough weather.

"It will be a tough bash in the early part of it, but once we free up we will have to slow the old girl down," he said.

"We have done most of the things we need to do to prepare for the change. We have shifted the sails to the right places."

Organisers expect that the winds will carry through the notoriously variable final stages of the race, when boats often battle maddeningly calm conditions up the Derwent River to Hobart's Constitution Dock.

So far three boats have retired from the race -- Audi Sunshine Coast, Dodo and Wilparina -- reducing the field to 91. 

Wild Oats bagged an historic second triple crown in the 2012 edition crossing the line first and winning the overall handicap as well as setting a new record time of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds. 

It was its sixth line honours victory in the race and if it wins this year's edition it will equal the race record of seven line honours wins, set by the yacht which sailed under the names Kurrewa IV and Morna.

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