Australian supermaxi Wild Oats XI continued to lead the fleet on day two of the Sydney-Hobart race on Tuesday with rival supermaxi Investec Loyal hot on her heels.
As the two yachts crossed Bass Strait, between the Australian mainland and island state of Tasmania, light winds calmed the notorious stretch of water, turning the second half of the 680 nautical mile race into a tactical duel.
Rough conditions overnight saw three yachts suffer gear damage and retire, including line honours contender Wild Thing which was fourth at the time.
Wild Oats XI, aiming for a sixth line honours victory, has led the race since leaving Sydney Harbour on Monday and was about 10 nautical miles ahead of Investec Loyal on Tuesday.
"Last night was a relatively difficult night, it was pretty uncomfortable up on deck," said Investec Loyal skipper Anthony Bell. "We expect it to be very tactical coming down the Tasman coast with lighter winds."
Australian yacht Lahana was third and in fourth place was Hugo Boss, a hi-tech, water-ballasted 60 foot downwind flyer from Britain.
"It looks as if the winds are going to die out to a certain extent and there's a forecast for some rather fickle conditions down adjacent to Flinders Island and off the northeast coast of Tasmania," said Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore Garry Linacre.
"It becomes a very much hi-tech battle between navigators," said Linacre, adding that if Wild Oats XI slowed there was a chance for Investec Loyal to take the lead.
But while the lead yachts are encountering light and variable winds, the remainder of the 88-boat fleet was still battling southerly headwinds off the Australian east coast.
Despite a cyclone-generated swell and tailwind which sent the fleet charging down the coast from the start, the pace of this year's race is slower, said race spokesman Jim Gale.
The race record is one day, 18 hours and 40 minutes.
Alchemy III skipper Jarrod Ritchie said he was hoping not to be "car parked" in Bass Strait as conditions eased.
"This year is peculiar in that there's a large degree of softness," said Ritchie. "So it's a case of not sitting there and turning it into a car park, bobbing around for half a day, a day. I think that's a challenge."