But not before the strong gale force south-westerly claimed another three yachts

The people’s maxi, Jim Cooney’s Brindabella, has retired this afternoon with a torn mainsail. The Jutson 79, the 1997 line honours winner, is returning to Sydney.

Two more yachts have retired. Robert Reynolds’ DK46 Exile has pulled out of the blue water classic, navigator Julie Hodder reporting: “our steering wheel was smashed by the boom when we took off our main. We are very disappointed.” Martin Power’s Victorian Peterson 44 Bacardi has also retired after being dismasted 35 nautical miles east of Batemans Bay on the New South Wales south coast.

The Mark Richards skippered Wild Oats XI still leads the fleet. The supermaxi is in the middle of Bass Strait, about 290 nautical miles from the finish, with a computer-projected finishing time of about 21:00 tomorrow evening.

The 100 footer is maintaining an 18-19 nautical mile lead over Sean Langman’s supermaxi Investec Loyal with the big mover today, Matt Allen’s Jones 70 Ichi Ban, lying third, eight miles further back. Then follows Peter Millard and John Honan’s 30 metre maxi Lahana, Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing and Niklas Zennstrom’s JV72 Rán, the first foreign entry, about 47 miles astern of the race leader.

Barring mishap, four-time line honours champion Wild Oats XI is continuing to charge toward a fifth title and could herald some good news of kinder conditions for those in her wake.

Navigator Ian Burns said the crew had experienced 40 knots, but the yacht and crew had punched on to be in good condition and high spirits. “It was pretty arduous going, very hard to slow the boat down to keep it in one piece,” he said. “We had to get down to very, very small sails and really work at keeping the boat slow so we weren’t crashing off waves too much.”

Burns said seas were calming down and the breeze was softening to 15 knots as the 100 footer charged about 120 nautical miles south of Gabo Island at this evening. “We’ll just deal with each wave and each puff of breeze as they come to us. We’ll get there when we get there,” he added.

Ichi Ban has relinquished first place on corrected time to Stephen Ainsworth’s fancied Reichel Pugh 63 Loki, which has a notional lead of 18 minutes over Ichi Ban. They are followed by Lahana and Alan Brierty’s 62 foot Reichel Pugh design, Limit, sailing for NSW.

The injured crewman on Dodo reportedly has a broken arm; a name is yet to be released.

As of 18:30 (local time) there have been a total of nine retirements from the 87-strong line up that began racing from Sydney Harbour at 13:00 yesterday afternoon.

The fleet can be tracked on Yacht Tracker at www.rolexsydneyhobart.com