Records look likely to fall in this year's Sydney to Hobart
7PM EDT: SUPERMAXI speedsters were surfing down waves at speeds so high they would incur a fine on many roads en-route to smashing the race record in the Sydney to Hobart.
Scallywag skipper David Witt has predicted new records will be set for personal best times on yachts as they revel in the "once in a lifetime conditions" expected to produce a race record early on Wednesday morning.
"We could see speeds we have never seen before come out of these beasts,'' he said.
Witt said there was potential for yachts to be hitting speeds in the high 30's - the equivalent of around 70km/h - in the right conditions.
Just three hours after the start a crewman on Scallywag reported they were already surfing at 25 knots "and sending it" as they vied for the lead with record holder Wild Oats, Anthony Bell's Perpetual Loyal, the New Zealand yacht Beau Geste and the Queensland entry Black Jack.
Further back was Ludde Ingvall's CQS, the centre of attention in a dramatic start to the race on Sydney Harbour.
While Mark Richards showed his skills as a helmsman as he weaved his way from the back to the front of the fleet at the start, Ingvall and his team were involved in a near capsize.
"I hope everyone enjoyed the show,'' Ingvall laughed from the boat last night, while revealing all crew were safe and well with only minor damage done to the wing tips and flaps on the side of the 100-footer.
The yacht was forced to crash tack at the start with the keel caught on the wrong side of the yacht which then rolled on its side when the engine stalled.
Ingvall revealed he has already hit 30 knots sailing down the NSW coast on Monday afternoon.
Anthony Bell and his team on Perpetual Loyal won the race out of Sydney Heads and out into open sea to confirm they could "surprise the fleet'' this year.
"We have a few tricks up our sleeve still,'' Bell said.
Wild Oats was also producing big speeds with a bowman spotted at the top of her mast not long after the race sorting out an unknown problem.
The retirement of two yachts - the Newcastle boat Freyja and are Dare Devil - has reduced the fleet to 86.
Mark Richard and his Wild Oats crew set the race record of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds back in 2012.
To break the record one of the big boats in the fleet must finished before 7.23am on Wednesday morning.
5pm: The odds of it happening would have to be be extraordinarily high but for the second year in a row Sibby Ilzhofer's bid to be the first female skipper to Hobart has ended just off the NSW coast.
Ilzhofer and her team on the 47-footer Dare Devil were the second yacht to retire in the 72nd race - and the second boat from Newcastle.
Incredibly Dare Devil lost her rudder again this year - the same damage which put her put of the stormy race a year ago.
This year Ilzhofer's campaign lasted just a few short hours, with the sailor retiring at 5.05pm.
Earlier, Freyja, the 72-year-old minnow of the Sydney to Hobart fleet, was the first yacht sent to the sidelines, just hours after the spectacular start on Sydney Harbour.
But owner Richard Lees said his little 37-foot will still go to Hobart. Lees' boat and crew were sent to the sidelines when they blew out their headsail around two hours after the start of the race at 1pm.
"We probably had too big a sail up,'' Lees said.
But the Newcastle sailor said he will still sail the timber boat to Hobart sometime in upcoming weeks.
"Our plan was to do this race and leave it there for the wooden boat festival,'' he said. "We still want to do that.''
1.15pm: The frontrunners in the 88-strong fleet in the 72nd Sydney to Hobart have started their chase for a place in Australian sporting history in what is likely to be the fastest race south ever.
The multi-million dollar fleet of timber and carbon fibre was sent on its way by a cannon fired by ocean racing legend Syd Fischer under blue skies and in a perfect 20 knot nor'easterly.
The start was spectacular and dramatic but without a major incident - in stark contrast to a year ago when the starting boat started to sink and a number of yachts were damaged just minutes into the race in collision with rivals.
As expected the fleet giants Perpetual Loyal, Wild Oats, Scallywag, CQS and Beau Geste stole the show as they raced up the harbour to lead the fleet out into open sea.
Anthony Bell and his team on Loyal won the honour of being first out through the Heads in an early morale-boost for the team.
Ludde Ingvall and his team on CSQ had some issues with their keel, which saw the yacht laid over early before recovering.
But Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards was unhappy, as he had to duck and weave his way through the line, losing valuable time.
"Terrible start, terrible start," he said from the yacht.
Wild Oat's record of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds is set to tumble this year with an extraordinary forecast of running and reaching tipped for the entire race.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators took to the water in every conceivable style of vessel - from surf skis to yachts, powerboats and catamaran - to witness history in the making on Monday.
This afternoon and evening the yachts will fly down the NSW coast under giant spinnaker at record-breaking speed in these one in these once-in-a-lifetime weather conditions.
Midday: Yachts in the 88-strong Sydney to Hobart fleet are already at the start line checking the wind and showing the race committee their storm jibs and trisails as the countdown to the race begins.
With under an hour to go to the canon fires to send the fleet on its way, the majority of yachts are already on the race course.
For safety all yachts must show the race committee the smallest sails they carry in the race - a rule introduced in the wake of the deadly 1998 race.
Thousands of spectator boats are watching the pre-start from the exclusion zone around the fleet as temperatures hit 27 degrees on the harbour and the a stunning nor'-easterly continues to build.
"It's going to be a ripper,'' said Tony Cable, about to contest a record 51st Sydney to Hobart on the Sydney yacht Duende.
"At last we will get a bit more fun than the big boats - they're going to be one-day wonders.''
Wild Oats X1 tactician and former America's Cup skipper Iain Murray remains confident the Sydney to Hobart record will fall "by hours" but is still forecasting a tough, close and tactical race south.
Murray has been aboard the Aussie 100-footer for all her nine previous line honours wins, her two race records and her two overall wins.
"It is going to be a lovely race for the entire fleet,'' Murray said.
"Clouds (meteorologist Roger Badham) says everyone should retire after this one.
Just minutes before leaving the dock for the start, rival skippers David Witt (Scallywag) and Anthony Bell (Perpetual Loyal) said they remain confident they can be right in the mix for the line honours win despite Wild Oats' favouritism.
"We have a couple of things up our sleeve'' said Bell, who beat Wild Oats in 2011 for the line honours.
"We like this forecast a lot,'' Witt warned.
A honking nor'easterly has been forecast for the opening stanza of the race.
It's being billed as world ocean racing's great splash and dash - a record-breaking, heart-pumping magic carpet ride between Sydney and Hobart.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators are already amassing on the Sydney Harbour foreshore and preparing to jump aboard various crafts to witness the start of what is expected to be a historic race.
But missing from the action is the Sydney yacht Enigma which on Boxing Day morning notified the race committee she was unable to start due to engine issues.
This has reduced the fleet to 88 for the 1pm (EDT) start of the 72nd edition of the big race.
The forecast continues to indicate hours will be carved off the race record of one day 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 second set by Wild Oats X1 in 2012.
Early weather indicates the fleet will hit record-breaking speeds almost as soon as they clear Sydney Heads after the start.
"It's going to be a lot of fun no matter what happens,'' said Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards, a nine-time line honours winner of the race.
The fleet frontrunners include ocean marauders Wild Oats, fellow Australian supermaxis Perpetual Loyal and CQS and Hong Kong entry Scallywag.
"It's going to be wet and wild,'' said Scallywag skipper David Witt, lining up in his 22nd jaunt to Hobart.
"It looks like one of the easiest races we have seen in years in terms of weather. But it could be very, very tactical."
Just a year ago, a violent southerly storm smashed the fleet during the opening night and morning with Wild Oats and Perpetual Loyal two early casualties.
"We just don't want to be having a team meeting at the Watson's Bay pub on the 27th this year,'' said Perpetual Loyal skipper Anthony Bell.
The fleet will start off two start lines on Sydney Harbour.
In the fleet are 10 international crews, including sailors from Korea, China, Germany and New Zealand.
Yachts ranging from the 30-foot timer boat Maluka, the 52-footers like Ichi Ban and the supermaxis are all still in contention for the overall honours on the current forecast.