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Wild Oats XI sets the pace

Out in front: Wild Oats XI leads the start of the Sydney to Hobart race as the yachts sail out of Sydney Harbour.

Out in front: Wild Oats XI leads the start of the Sydney to Hobart race as the yachts sail out of Sydney Harbour. Photo: Brendan Esposito

AFTER Wild Oats XI made a blistering start to lead the reduced Sydney to Hobart fleet of 76 yachts out of the Heads, Adrienne Cahalan - as her navigator, the brains trust to plotting the quickest line to the finish - refused to talk up its chances of a race record beyond saying it was a ''possibility''.

But Cahalan, sailing in her 21st Sydney to Hobart, did rate the super maxi's start as probably one of its best in the 628-nautical mile race.

''We got a good start. We were right on line and we were where we wanted to be, but I think it would probably be one of our bests starts for the Hobart [race],'' Cahalan said on Wednesday afternoon soon after Wild Oats XI passed Coalcliff, just north of Wollongong on the New South Wales coast.

An aerial photo of the start of the 2012 Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race as the fleet head south along the NSW coast towards Tasmania's Constitution Dock. Click for more photos

Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race 2012 - Day 1

The Rolex Sydney to Hobart is often described as the most gruelling long ocean race in the world. The fleet starts in Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day for a 628 nautical mile journey to Tasmania. Selected images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com. Follow us at http://twitter.com/photosSMH Photo: Brendan Esposito

Cahalan has maintained a cautious stance over Wild Oats XI's chances of bettering her 2005 race record of one day 18 hours 40 minutes 10 seconds since the Bureau of Meteorology forecast the southerly for Wednesday's start, followed by nor-easterlies and then a westerly and second southerly.

But in the 20-knot southerly that blew for the race start, Wild Oats XI found incredible speed and was soon on record pace - albeit with much of the race to come and the potential for transitions between wind shifts and a pre-frontal westerly and southerly change threatening to slow down yachts. Cahalan clocked Wild Oats XI passing the Junction Bell in Sydney Harbour just four minutes after the 1pm start.

Wild Oats XI sailed out from the Heads and soon had 1½-minute lead on Ragamuffin Loyal, followed by Peter Harburg's 66-foot Reichel Pugh Black Jack, Stephen Ainsworth's 63-footer Loki which won on corrected time last year and Peter Millard's maxi Lahana. Last past the Heads was the Bob Steel-owned TP52, Quest, in pursuit of Peter Rodger's Olsen 40-footer, She and Sean Langman's Classic gaff rigger, Maluka of Kermandie, in third-last place.

One absentee was Grant Wharington's maxi Wild Thing which had been sensationally excluded from the fleet three hours earlier by the race committee after Wharington failed to comply with race laws that required him to submit documents validating modifications that had been carried out on the yacht.

It was still a rapid exit by the final fleet with all of the yachts having sailed from the harbour within 20 minutes of the race having started in sunny skies.

But Wild Oats set the pace. She passed the seamark - or second mark - before the last turn south in just over 11 minutes against 12 minutes last year. But several hours later, as Wild Oats XI approached Wollongong with her pace slowing, Cahalan was still reluctant to talk about a race record.

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