An overnight battle of tactics will go a long way to deciding the 75th Sydney to Hobart, with all five of the race’s supermaxis locked in a tight tussle.
Shortly before midnight Comanche had regained the narrowest of leads – ahead by just 32 seconds – as the yachts crossed Bass Strait, propelled by a north-easterly breeze of up to 30 knots.
InfoTrack was hot on her heels, while Hong Kong’s SHK Scallywag 100 was in a battle with Black Jack for third after leading for much of the day.
A repeat of last year’s dramatic finish, where all four supermaxis ended up on Hobart’s River Derwent at the same time, looks on the cards.
But that depends on how conditions develop.
Line honours are tipped to be decided early on Saturday afternoon, but Cruising Yacht Club of Australia race commodore Paul Billingham conceded weather forecasts were a “bit all over the place”.
“We’ve been a bit spoiled the last few years, we seem to have a race record every few years,” he said.
What we’re seeing now is perhaps a purer yacht race with variable conditions testing all the boats.”
Two-time winner Comanche‘s decision to take an easterly route across Bass Strait paid dividends as the yacht returned to a lead it held on Thursday.
“The navigators on the boats are the best in the world. They have all got their own particular patterns,” Billingham said.
“It’s a bit of cat-and-mouse at the moment.”
Last year’s winner Wild Oats XI made up ground after a slow morning, coming from ninth to be at the back of the five-strong supermaxi pack.
The overnight winds, which had picked up in the afternoon, are expected to prove tricky.
The crew of New South Wales 72-footer URM, next-best behind the supermaxi group in sixth place, has prepared for an important night.
“We’re getting the boys fully rested and making sure that we’re ready to push hard through the night,” crew member Tony Tindill said.
The leading yachts had no issue making it past the checkpoint at Green Cape, which courted controversy in the lead-up to the race over its specific radio check-in protocol.
Nearly all the fleet’s 157 boats remain on the water, with Hollywood Boulevard and Faster Forward the only starters to have retired.