THE smaller boats still left in this year's Sydney to Hobart could be headed into a perfect storm with gale force winds and huge seas predicted to whip up off Tasmania tomorrow afternoon.
After a super-fast run out of Sydney Heads - the entire fleet of 94 boats was into open water after just 25 minutes - it was the super maxis, Wild Oats XI, Wild Thing, Beau Geste, Ragamuffin and Perpetual Loyal, which led the way down the New South Wales coast last night.
Wild Oats, shooting for a record-equalling seventh line honours win, led the way but the challengers were all within striking distance.
While the poor weather is unlikely to produce any records, the bigger boats remained confident they would make it to Constitution Dock in Hobart before the worst of conditions struck.
Andrew Treloar, from the Bureau of Meteorology, said the smaller, slower boats could expect heavy winds nearing 50 knots and seas as high as 10m tomorrow night.
"For those getting through Bass Strait later on Saturday, it's going to be quite windy down there. We're looking at gales, and quite big waves as they're crossing," he said.
"Once they get into the lee of Tasmania they should get some shelter.
"But they need to look out for the southern edge of Tasmania and Storm Bay; the topography there can funnel the wind, and it'll be strong down there by the time the majority of the fleet arrives.
"The smaller boats will need to be well-prepared, they will cop a beating."
While the drama is yet to unfold, it seemed race favourite Wild Oats XI would make the entire trip with a cloud over her head after an incident nearing the first mark in Sydney Harbour.
With three start lines and three marks inside the harbour instead of the usual two because of the large fleet, it seemed as though Perpetual Loyal's skipper, Anthony Bell, was confused about where the mark was and who had right of way.
After Wild Oats veered away from its main rival and raced to the mark, a protest flag appeared on the back of the other boat.
Later in the afternoon, however, Bell informed race officials: "Just had team meeting; decided not to proceed with protest. At first we thought we may have been fouled - but … "
Shortly afterwards he revealed the crew's frustration, adding, "Pretty light winds (11- 12 knots ) so doing our best to keep boat going as fast as we can in non-ideal conditions".
Two boats that weren't going at all by that stage were Audi Sunshine Coast, which was forced out with rig problems, and New South Wales boat Dodo, which pulled out with mainsail damage.
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