(CNN) -- New Zealand maxi Alfa Romeo took advantage of a break in light weather conditions to steal a march on its rivals in the annual Sydney-Hobart yacht race off the south-east coast of Australia on Sunday.
Skipper Neville Crichton's 100-foot vessel has led since leaving Sydney Heads, and moved more than 10 nautical miles ahead at the halfway stage in the evening.
Second-placed British entry ICAP Leopard and Australia's four-time line honors winner Wild Oats failed to catch an early breeze, giving Crichton the edge with more patchy weather predicted ahead in the 628 nautical mile event.
Leopard skipper Mike Slade told the race's official Web site that Alfa Romeo made a break at around 9 a.m. near Gabo Island after hours of frustratingly light winds.
"We were all just splashing about, there was no breeze whatsoever, and it's always the case that someone will get that little extra puff," Slade said.
"Alfa Romeo was in the right place to get it. We didn't get it, Wild Oats XI didn't get it, and Alfa put 10 miles on us both very quickly."
Wild Oats set the race record of one day, 18 hours and 40 minutes in 2005, but that mark is almost certain to still be standing at the end of the 65th staging of the event, with the winner expected to cross the line on arrival at the island state of Tasmania on Monday night.
"We were unfortunate to get into a hole. We could see Alfa when she got her nose into the new breeze," skipper Mark Richards told rolexsydneyhobart.com.
"These things happen. There is always an element of luck, and things went his way. It's one of those frustrating things -- a role reversal of 2005."
However, with conditions uncertain there is still a chance that 2002 winner Crichton could yet be denied a first victory in a yacht that was launched in 2005 and has 143 line honors triumphs to date.
"The big guys will have some running in Bass Strait, but there are still a lot of potholes between that and the finish," yachting forecaster Roger Badham told the Web site. "Anyone of the three could finish first."
Noel Cornish's Sydney 47 St Jude is a surprise leader in the handicap standings, while the Sydney 38 Mondo became the fifth entry to retire and leave the fleet reduced to 95.
The race, first held in 1945, has been hit by severe weather conditions in recent years.
In 1998, six competitors died and several boats were lost during a fierce storm on the first night.
Two years ago the fleet was also hit by similar conditions, and eight yachtsman had to abandon a sinking craft.