The chase for line honours at the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is intensifying with the leading boats approaching the halfway mark of the 628-nm race.
At 16:00 local time and 27 hours into the race, the Mark Richards-skippered Wild Oats XI lay 13 nautical miles ahead of Comanche - the American Maxi which had led the race for 22 hours following a blistering exit out of Sydney Harbour. Wild Oats XI is chasing an unprecedented eighth line honours victory, Comanche hoping to triumph in her first offshore race.
"Last night we had some big seas, so it was fairly sloppy on a wide boat like this. It was a bit of a challenge," reported Comanche navigator Stan Honey, line honours winner on Investec Loyal in 2011. "The real challenge will come later tonight and early tomorrow morning when it gets light off the southeast corner of Tasmania." Indications suggest that the 2014 race will be go down to wire, won or lost in the Derwent River.
MARK RICHARDS-SKIPPERED WILD OATS XI (AUS) AT THE START OF THE 70TH ROLEX SYDNEY HOBART
Race Start - WILD OATS XI, Sail n: AUS10001, Bow n: XI, Design: Reichel Pugh 100, Owner: Robert Oatley, Skipper: Mark Richards - Photo By: Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi
Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin 100 currently lies sixth on the water, a significant 50-nm behind the leading two boats, although sailing master David Witt was confident of narrowing that gap. Ragamuffin has chosen a different route, closer to the rhumb line. "The two leaders are going to stay together. I think we are going to meet them at the Tasman lighthouse. It's going to be light, so it's going to suit both Wild Oats XI and ourselves."
117 yachts started the race, eight have retired - the most high profile remains Anthony Bell's 100-ft Maxi Perpetual Loyal, forced to abandon the race with hull damage sustained during the first evening. It represented a huge blow for Bell who won line honours with Investec Loyal, his previous boat, in 2011. Other retirements include Brindabella, Last Tango and Triton.
While the leading Maxis are forecasting arrival in Hobart during the afternoon tomorrow, beating the race record of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set by Wild Oats XI in 2012 is likely to remain an illusion.
For the 109 yachts still at sea, a testing measure of endurance sailing awaits.