Rolex Sydney Hobart - Wild Oats XI bears down on the Bass Strait

Wild Oats XI is set to launch into Bass Strait this morning
In the CYCA's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, leader Wild Oats XI is set to launch into Bass Strait in a freshening northerly breeze this morning. A short time ago Wild Oats XI’s navigator, Adrienne Cahalan, reported that the crew had had a busy night, constantly changing sails as yesterday’s east-south-easterly breeze moved around to the east and softened to 4-5 knots at around midnight. It gradually shifted around to the north-north east, and gradually built in the early hours of the morning.

'We are currently doing 15 knots in 15 knots of wind,' Cahalan reported this morning. 'We’ve got a little bit of current too.'

Cahalan expects the wind to build to around 20 knots this morning, making for a very fast ride across Bass Strait.

'We’re now looking at how we approach Tasmania. The next big picture is the approaching front this evening or tomorrow morning. We are working out what our strategy should be,' she said.

Cahalan reported that in the lighter breeze during the night, second placed Ragamuffin-Loyal was able to close in on the race leader, but as the northerly kicked in, Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI pulled away again in the near-perfect downwind conditions, opening a lead of 10 nautical miles.

'It’s better to be ahead in this situation, which isn’t always the case. Usually the boats behind get the breeze first, but that’s not the case at the moment; we’re getting the new breeze first.'

About 30 miles behind Wild Oats XI, Geoff Cropley, on board Peter Millard/John Honan’s 98ft Lahana, reported: 'Us and the lead boats are under spinnaker. We’re in a nice north-easterly breeze of around 15 knots and building.'

81, LAHANA, Sail No: 10081, Owner: Peter Millard and John Honan, Design: Bakewell - White 30m, LOA (m): 29.9, State: NSW Start of the 68th Rolex Sydney Hobart - 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

Cropley said the night had been pretty uneventful aboard Lahana, with only one problem. 'We did break the tack line on the Code Zero, but apart from that, all is good.

'The breeze died to 4-5 knots from the east around midnight, 1.00pm, but at around 3.00am it started to fill in and build and is continuing to build,' Cropley said. 'It feels like we’re in a washing machine though – the leftovers of the south/easterly swell have made it bumpy.'

While the big boats are picking up speed this morning, life remains frustrating for the smaller, slower boats further up the coast. The fleet is now stretched across 140 miles from Jervis Bay to Green Cape, where each boat must radio its position before heading into Bass Straight, and the further along the coast, where they are in softer breeze. Some boats are making very little headway at all.

As Ichi Ban skipper Mat Allen prophesised before the race: 'This year the rich will only get richer.'

There have been no retirements at all from the 76 boat fleet.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race website