HOBART, Australia (AP) — Defending champion Wild Oats XI retook the lead over fellow super maxi Perpetual Loyal on Friday as the two yachts dueled for line honors in the Sydney to Hobart race.
Perpetual Loyal led by 10 nautical miles before Wild Oats XI made its move. With the yachts at the halfway point of the 628-nautical-mile trip to Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania, Wild Oats XI had taken a lead of five nautical miles.
Another super maxi, Ragamuffin 100, was nine nautical miles behind in third.
Based on current weather forecasts of very light winds at the finish, the winner was not expected to reach Hobart until early Sunday morning, well off Wild Oat XI's race record set last year of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds.
Race officials also warned of dangerous conditions and strong winds late Saturday for the slower and smaller yachts still sailing across Bass Strait from the Australian mainland.
In 1998, six sailors died and five yachts sank in a storm that hit the fleet early in the race.
Loyal skipper Anthony Bell said his crew was hoping for stronger winds that would better suit his 100-footer in the last half of the race.
"We are sailing as well as we can in really light winds that don't suit our boat," he said. "We're looking hard for more wind."
Perpetual Loyal has among its crew London Olympics laser gold medalist Tom Slingsby, the Australian who was strategist on the winning Team Oracle USA boat at this year's America's Cup. Also on board is Jessica Watson, the Australian who four years ago became the youngest person to sail around the world solo and unassisted as a 16-year-old.
Wild Oats XI is owned by wine mogul Bob Oatley, who is heading the Australian challenge for the next America's Cup and is the Challenger of Record through his Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
There were 94 starters, including 22 from outside Australia, and two retirements by late Friday due to equipment and rigging failures.
The overseas contingent included 12 boats from the Clipper Round the World race, which for the first time included the Sydney to Hobart as the sixth race of its 16-race schedule.