Updated: Saturday, 28 December 2013 08:09 | By Agence France-Presse

Wild Oats XI stretches Sydney to Hobart lead

Supermaxi Wild Oats XI lengthened its lead in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Saturday, but light conditions in the potentially treacherous Bass Strait frustrated fierce rival Perpetual Loyal.

Wild Oats XI stretches Sydney to Hobart lead

Wild Oats Xl (R) and Beau Geste sail out of the Heads at the start of an annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race on December 26, 2013

Perpetual Loyal, a heavier and wider boat than Wild Oats XI and one more suitable for rough conditions, has struggled with the uncharacteristic lack of breeze in the ocean race and by Saturday was some 30 nautical miles behind the leader.

"We're just bobbing around here," Loyal's skipper Anthony Bell had complained late Friday.

"We have four knots across the deck. I've seen it windier in my two-year-old daughter's indoor swimming lessons."

Weather forecasters expect a breeze to kick in later Saturday, and Perpetual Loyal must stay in contact with the leader to ensure it remains in the running for line honours when the weather changes.

But it also faces a challenge from the boats behind it, including fellow 100-footer Ragamuffin 100 which is just under two nautical miles behind in third spot in the 628 nautical mile race down the east coast of Australia which began on Boxing Day.

Another 20 nautical miles back in the Bass Strait, which separates mainland Australia from the island state of Tasmania, are two Volvo 70s, Giacomo and Black Jack, 100-footer Wild Thing and the Hong Kong 80-footer Beau Geste.

With winds set to pick up Saturday afternoon, most of the mid-sized boats in the fleet should cross the strait under spinnaker before forecast gale force winds come through in the evening. However, the smaller and slower boats will bear the brunt of the rough weather as they make their crossing in subsequent hours.

Organisers expect that the winds will carry through the notoriously variable final stages of the race, when boats often battle maddeningly calm conditions up the Derwent River to Hobart's Constitution Dock.

So far three boats have retired from the race, reducing the field to 91 -- Audi Sunshine Coast, Dodo and Wilparina. 

Wild Oats bagged an historic second triple crown in the 2012 edition crossing the line first and winning the overall handicap as well as setting a new record time of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds. It was its sixth line honours victory in the race.

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