Wild Oats XI has tightened its grip on a record-equalling seventh Sydney to Hobart line honours win after a night of slow sailing.
Oats opened up its lead over rival supermaxi perpetual LOYAL to close to 25 nautical miles in light wind conditions.
Early on Saturday morning, the Mark Richards-skippered boat was managing just over eight knots and was 74nm east of Eddystone Point off Tasmania’s northeast coast.
LOYAL continued its battle with unfavourable light northeasterly winds and was in danger of dropping behind veteran Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin, which was just three miles back.
LOYAL and Ragamuffin were both around 90 miles east of Flinders Island.
New Zealand Volvo 70 Giacomo was fourth, 42nm behind the leader, followed by Queensland’s Black Jack (46nm) and Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing (50nm).
Brannew was the latest boat to lead the overall race on handicap.
But the front of the fleet could only manage single digit speeds throughout the night.
Wild Oats was expected at Constitution Dock late on Saturday night or early Sunday morning, although freshening northeasterly winds along the Tasmanian coast could speed its progress.
The Bureau of Meteorology was forecasting winds of 30-40 knots from Saturday afternoon.
Those conditions will suit LOYAL but the gap could be too big for Anthony Bell’s rebuilt boat to make up.
The back of the fleet is expected to endure gales in Bass Strait on Saturday night, with southwesterlies of up to 40 knots predicted.
Only three boats have retired from the race – Audi Sunshine Coast, Dodo and Wilparina – in the so far light conditions.
Wild Oats XI can equal Morna/Kurrewa IV’s race record of seven line honours wins if it reaches Hobart first.