The race is well and truly on in the Rolex Sydney Hobart

Investec Loyal is clinging to a 1.8 nautical mile lead over Wild Oats XI as the two super maxi’s play cat and mouse down the Tasmanian coast in light and fickle northerly breeze this morning.

Investec Loyal pounced on her line honours rival at approximately 8.00pm on Tuesday evening when Bob Oatley’s yacht, with Mark Richards at the helm, sailed into a patch of dead air, allowing Anthony Bell’s 100 footer to sail around her.

Now the roles are reversed with a forecast of very light and variable winds, including very large patches of no wind at all off Tasmania’s coast for most of the day, which was evident in the short message from Wild Oats XI just after 6.30am.

It was reported from the five-time line honours and record holder: “We’ve got a yacht race on our hands out here! We are high speed running – more wind shifts ahead.”

It will be a day to test the mental toughness and stamina of the yachts’ tacticians and navigators and the precision of the crews as they try to wring every fraction of a knot out of their boats in these light airs.

At least the distractions of a possible race record are behind them. The light winds ended that remote possibility once and for all last night.

Behind the super maxis at the tail end of Bass Strait, the 50 to 60 foot grand prix yachts, led by Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki, are sailing at 10 knots and less in a light and shifty northerly.

However, later this morning, those yachts are likely to find themselves in better pressure than the frontrunners, which will have the effect of closing the time gap on the line honours contenders.

The further north you are in Bass Strait the stronger the breeze, with the smaller boats in the fleet making good ground in the race for the Tattersalls Cup, which is awarded to the overall winner of the race.

Crews on these smaller yachts will be hopeful that by the time they reach the Tasmanian coast, the High that is causing the fickle winds today will have moved on.  If so, this could well be a small boat race.

The IRC handicap race is currently lead by the Victorian TP52 Calm (Jason Van Der Slot), with the 2009 overall winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, Two True, the Beneteau 40 owned by Andrew Saies, currently second from the French entry L’Ange De Milon (Jacques Pelletier) in third.

Twelve yachts have now retired, with 76 yachts still racing. The latest casualty was Colin Woods’ Pretty Fly III, which dropped off a crew in Eden after he suffered a knee injury.

By Jim Gale, Rolex Sydney Hobart media team

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