Scallywag leads Sydney-Hobart on day two

Sydney (AFP) –


Hong Kong yacht Scallywag led the pack on day two of the Sydney to Hobart race Friday, but with very little separating the five leading contenders.

SHK Scallywag had to retire from last year's race with a broken bowsprit, but was just over two nautical miles ahead of Black Jack 22 hours into this year's race.

More than 150 yachts entered the open ocean for the annual, 630 nautical miles (1,170 kilometres) race down Australia's east coast on Thursday.

Race favourite Comanche had snatched the lead after a slow start and the 100-footer was still in contention Friday -- albeit well behind its own 2017 race record in less favourable conditions.

"Anything could and probably will happen" said race spokesperson Di Pearson, adding that boat speeds varied between 5.5 knots and 10 knots thanks to a weak southerly wind.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology forecast wind moving into the north-east in the afternoon at 15 to 25 knots, "reaching 30 knots at times".

"Should this prediction eventuate, it will have the effect of letting the super maxis play their escape cards again and give Comanche her head once more," Pearson said.

After weeks shrouded in bushfire smoke haze that forced the cancellation of the Big Boat Challenge, an event that foreshadows the Sydney-Hobart, the 75th race began under clear blue summer skies on Thursday.

Light bushfire smoke is forecast over the ocean in the coming days, but Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore Phil Billingham said the impact was expected to be "minimal" as many of the boats will be up to 40 miles (64 kilometres) offshore.