Nine-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI has dropped off the pace in the Sydney to Hobart, with Hong Kong’s SHK Scallywag leading the fleet.
The five supermaxis and the rest of the fleet all slowed down through the night, as they dealt with weakening winds in a crucial transition period. Boat speeds dropped significantly as the wind lightened and changed direction to the south.
By 9am (AEDT) on Friday, Hong Kong’s SHK Scallywag 100 had forged a two-nautical-mile lead over Comanche, which headed the fleet for most of the first few hours of the race on Thursday.
Wild Oats XI, which underwent extensive repairs after suffering damage in early November, dropped as much as 35 miles off the pace. She was down as low as ninth in the fleet but moved up to eighth, just under 30 miles behind the leader, as she picked up speed while travelling at 20 knots.
There was no news of any technical or mechanical issue which could have been responsible for slowing down the 2005-built supermaxi.
“We’re not aware of anything on that other than the fact it’s a soft (wind) patch,” Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Paul Billingham said. “The southerly change was always going to be soft and it’s turned out to be super soft.”
Supermaxis Black Jack and InfoTrack were five and 10 miles behind the leader in third and fourth respectively. Smaller boats ahead of Wild Oats XI were URM, Chinese Whisper and No Limit.
SHK Scallywag 100 appeared to be handling the conditions better than some of her big-boat rivals.
“Scallywag are the unknown quantity, she didn’t finish last year’s race,” Billingham said.“A great crew and this could be the dark horse. Scallywag is the surprise performer. In light breezes you tend to see the narrower-hulled boats, the Black Jacks and the Wild Oats, going pretty well.”
With the north easterlies expected to kick back in some time on Friday, Comanche still appeared to be in good shape While the leaders were on race-record pace on Thursday, the first finishers are expected to be well outside of Comanche’s 2017 benchmark and are no chance of getting to Hobart on Friday night
“How long and hard that (the north easterlies) lasts for will really impact on finishing times,” Billingham said. “Obviously a race record is gone and it’s looking like an early (Saturday) morning finish is not going to happen either.
“I think we’re looking at more late afternoon on current modelling but again we’ve got the Derwent to deal with. We know there’s a front starting to come across Tasmania into day three. When that comes through and how strong it comes through will make a big difference as well.”
Among the early leaders on handicap was the 32-foot ketch Katwinchar, which at 115 years is the oldest boat to ever contest the race.