GUSTO was on target to achieve a unique trifecta in Australian sailing on Thursday night, as the Brighton yacht comfortably led the Melbourne to Launceston race.
Fresh from winning the Boxing Day Dash across Port Phillip Bay, Gusto was aiming to win the race to the island state's north coast to go with the wins she posted in the Melbourne to Hobart races in 2010 (west coast) and last year (east coast).
Gusto was the first of more than 30 boats to reach the Queenscliff marker and then sail out of the Heads after leaving Portsea on Thursday afternoon. By Thursday night Brian Pattinson and his crew had opened a lead of 12 nautical miles over Noel May's Ninety Seven, while No Fearr was in third place.
The first of the boats racing to Launceston were expected to cross the finish line on Friday morning.
Goldfinger, the boat that sailed into Bass Strait second after Gusto, was comfortably leading the eastcoaster race to Hobart on Thursday night. Peter Blake's boat was 13 nautical miles ahead of XLR8, skippered by Ray Shaw, with Seven 50 in third place.
The fleet was a lot closer in the traditional westcoaster race, where eXtasea, skippered by Paul Buchholz, held a narrow lead over Bandit and Spirit of Downunder.
Bandit, the handicap winner in the Boxing Day race, was the third boat out of the Heads on Thursday.
The first of the boats racing to Hobart are expected to reach the Tasmanian capital on Sunday morning. The overall fleet began racing on Thursday with a northerly breeze as assistance, but the wind dropped soon after. A southerly breeze met the boats as they sailed into Bass Strait.