Perpetual Loyal, owned and co-skippered by Anthony Bell, at the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
Perpetual Loyal, owned and co-skippered by Anthony Bell, at the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Kurt Arrigo

Perpetual Loyal in lead after Wild Oats retires

SAILING: Sydney skipper Anthony Bell and his crew on Perpetual Loyal have made it through Bass Strait unscathed and are on course to break the course record in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race after the shock withdrawal of eight-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI.

The 100-footer and five of its rivals were still well ahead of the race record set by Wild Oats in 2012 and on course to break it early tomorrow morning before 7.23am.

But in hot pursuit of Bell and his crew was a New Zealand 70-footer and its crew having the race of their lives.

Winemaker Jim Delegat and his team on Giacomo were well within striking distance of their Aussie rival should opportunity present in the final run home.

Giacomo was just 20 nautical miles astern of Perpetual Loyal with Maserati and Scallywag about another 10 miles back.

Earlier, Perpetual Loyal was gaining on Wild Oats when disaster struck the eight-time line honours winner, which was forced to retire with a hydraulic ram issue.

The drama happened about 7am today (AEST).

The damage was to a pin that attaches the ram to the head of the keel.

The crew managed to lock the keel in the centre so it could continue to sail, with the boat heading to Eden on the far south coast of New South Wales.

The Mark Richards-skippered boat was leading the fleet when disaster struck.

It was about seven nautical miles ahead of Perpetual Loyal when it was seen on the race tracker slowing and then turning around.

Wild Oats was in Bass Strait when the incident occurred, almost halfway to Hobart.

The drama follows on from Wild Oats also retiring from the 2015 race with major sail damage sustained in a storm.

The crew put themselves through their most intense preparation ever in the lead-up to this race to avoid a repeat of their bad fortune a year ago.

But despite their best efforts the ram, which drives the canting keel, failed as the yacht was in the box seat to set a new record time in the race.

Wild Oats holds the race record of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.

Wild Oats was the fourth retirement of the race.