The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet passed through light transitional winds early this morning between the strong overnight northerly, of up to 22 knots and into a weak southwest change.
The three maxis leading the fleet were close reaching in the sou'wester at good speeds between 12.4 - 15.1 knots across Bass Strait.
Still leading the race, as she had done from the start, was Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI, skippered by Mark Richards. Sixteen hours after the start, the Reichel/Pugh 98 was 11 miles ahead of City Index Leopard (Mike Slade) with another 6.7 miles to Skandia (Grant Wharington).
The three canting-keeled 98ft maxis were about 80 miles southeast of Gabo Island, well into Bass Strait. Wild Oats had covered 263 miles of the 628 nautical mile course. The American STP65 Rosebud (Roger Sturgeon) was next, 22 miles behind Skandia.
Leopard's owner/skipper Mike Slade said from the boat this morning that the new wind angle, putting the leaders on a close reaching course towards Tasman Island, suited his beamier and heavier Farr-design, which had been unable to run angles as deep as Wild Oats before the northerly.
'Now we have the wind on the nose we are happy,' he said. 'We have the R2, a large reaching sail up and we are seeing 14 knots (of boat speed) in only ten knots of breeze. We have all of Bass Strait to haul Wild Oats back. These are conditions we like and we must make the most of it.'
Yachts further back in the fleet slowed badly after the fresh northerly died ahead of the southwest change. Between 5am and 6am the TP52s Wot Yot (Graeme Wood) and Cougar II (Alan Whiteley) were doing 3.8 and 2.7 knots respectively and the British Volvo 70 Hugo Boss II (Ross Daniel) 2.7 knots.
But the mid-fleet group got going again with respectable speeds as the southwest change moved up the south coast of New South Wales. At 8am the overall leader on IRC corrected time was reckoned to be Bruce Taylor's new Reichel/Pugh 40 Chutzpah, with the 39-year-old S&S designed Spirit of Koomooloo (Mike Freebairn) in 2nd place. Freebairn purchased the boat, which was Syd Fischer's original Ragamuffin, last March, to replace his previous boat, Koomooloo, which sank on the second day of the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart race.
Third on the handicap calculations was Bill Wild's Welbourn 42 Wedgetail, which enjoyed the hard running conditions of the race's earlier stages.
Only two yachts have retired, bringing the fleet to 80: Andrew Buckland's unorthodox Andrew Cape-designed Mr Kite, with a broken rudder and the Brolga 33 Berrimilla, after its only spinnaker wrapped itself irretrievably around the forestay.
After competing in the 2004 Rolex Sydney Hobart race owner Alex Whitworth and Peter Crozier sailed Berrimilla to England, competed in the 2005 Rolex Fastnet Race and then sailed back to Australia just in time to start in the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart race.
Michelle Colenso's Oyster 55 Cappricio of Rhu diverted into Wollongong to get hospital treatment for an injured crewman. The yacht rejoined the race this morning.
At current speeds, the first of the maxis are expected at the finish in Hobart on Friday morning.