Going into the first evening Wild Oats XI has stretched her lead to about four miles over Skandia 26/12/06

As the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart race fleet enters its first night, the southerly winds have kept the fleet remarkably tightly packed.

Normally after five or six hours the fleet begins to stretch out, but winds on the nose are a great leveller.

A few minutes ago David Pescud, skipper of the Lyons 52 Sailors with Disabilities reported that he was within sight of a host of other boats, including Ragamuffin, Merlin, Wedgetail, Quest, AFR Midnight Rambler and Goldfinger.

Pescud said that he was sailing in 15 knot southerlies, and on the whole his crew was faring well. “We had a bit of seasickness earlier but everyone’s calmed down now.”

Further down the coast the five race leaders remain bunched and in sight of each other.

Wild Oats XI has stretched her lead to about four miles over Skandia and Maximus, which are neck and neck, and just a mile or so behind them are the Volvo 70s ABN AMRO One and Ichi Ban.

Ichi Ban’s navigator, Will Oxley says that the winds and seas are definitely building as the boats get further south, but because they anticipate being close to the coast the stronger conditions are unlikely to pose a problem.

Indeed Oxley ruefully describes the coming night as likely to be ideal for the maxis. “Everyone is headed inshore where the breeze will be lighter, so they can be fully canvassed and fully powered up. The Volvo 70s are a little slower than the maxis in these conditions.”

Oxley said that late this afternoon Ichi Ban had to send crewman Mitch White up the mast to repair a snapped check stay: “we’re rebuilding the check stay and replacing the other one in anticipation of that one deciding to go as well. Everything is flying but it’s not something you’d want to happen in 30 knots of wind.”