Wild Oats XI was Tuesday leading the Sydney to Hobart yacht race after the fleet endured rough southerly winds overnight, with three boats retiring including line honours contender Wild Thing.
The supermaxi Wild Oats XI, hot favourite to take its sixth line honours win, had a 13.5 nautical mile advantage over fellow 100-footer Investec Loyal in the annual 628 nautical mile dash from Sydney to southern Tasmania.
"We are through the worst of it," Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said, as the boat sailed in a 15 knot southerly.
Fellow supermaxi Wild Thing, which won line honours in 2003, was in third position early Tuesday before damage forced it out of the race.
"Grant Wharington's Wild Thing retired with sail damage, heading back to Sydney, total three retirements from 88 starters," Sydney to Hobart race organisers said on their Twitter feed.
Weather forecasters had expected strong winds and high seas overnight as a result of a storm system to the south and the impact of tropical cyclones to the north, and the top 15 yachts reported winds of up to 30 knots late Monday.
But the conditions for the race, which in 1998 claimed the lives of six sailors when catastrophic weather hit and sank five yachts, claimed only one retirement overnight.
Celestial, a Rogers IRC 46, retired before midnight after breaking the gooseneck which connects the mainsail boom to the mast. All on board were well and the boat was returning to port.
Accenture Yeah Baby pulled out due to gear failure on Tuesday morning.
That leaves 85 boats in the race, which starts Boxing Day and sees yachts head down the Australian coast, cross the Bass Strait between the mainland and island Tasmania, and sail up the Derwent River to Hobart's Constitution Dock.
Wild Oats XI, holder of the current one day, 18 hour, 40 minute and 10 second race record set in 2005, will face stiff competition from Investec Loyal and Lahana, now in third position.
"We expect the 20 knot southerly to continue -- we'll be in Bass Strait this morning," Anthony Bell said from Investec Loyal.
"We expect the race to get very tactical down the Tasman coast, which will make the race interesting."
Navigator on the Lahana, Carl Crafoord, said his boat had a good night despite the conditions.
"It was very lumpy last night though," Crafoord said.
Onboard Loki, which was eighth across the line in 2010, Michael Bellingham said his vessel had been slowed down after it hit something underwater.
"Boat and crew all good; we hit a sunfish or large object about two hours ago and went from top speed down to three knots," he said Monday.
"We had to drop the kite and go head to wind to clear and ensure no damage. It was very big and made a loud bang when we hit."