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Sydney to Hobart: Wild Oats XI retires, Comanche damaged after hitting squall

ABC News ABC News 27/12/2015
Maxi yachts (L-R) Comanche, Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal sail on Sydney Harbour. © REUTERS/Jason Reed Maxi yachts (L-R) Comanche, Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal sail on Sydney Harbour.

Race favourites in the Sydney to Hobart blue water classic have copped a battering overnight, with defending line honours champion Wild Oats XI forced to retire due to sail damage.

Wild Oats' mainsail was split in half during a squall overnight off the News South Wales south coast.

No crew were injured and the yacht has returned to Sydney.

It is a shock turn for the race favourite, which was competing for its ninth line honours.

An emergency distress beacon was accidentally set off on yacht east of Narooma late this morning but crew are reported to be safe and well.

A "southerly buster" hit the fleet with 15 entrants now out of the race.

Wind gusts of 44 knots were reported overnight with organisers calling the conditions "really nasty".

Not long after Wild Oats XI turned back, the American favourite Comanche also decided to retire from the race with a broken rudder and damaged daggerboard.

But the yacht's crew members changed their mind and opted to continue the race while making running repairs at sea.

It is not known how much damage was done, how they managed to fix it or how it will impact on the super maxi's bid for line hours.

Skipper Ken Read has told the media centre the crew was determined to stay in the race.

"We came here to finish, one way or another we'll finish this damn race," he said.

"We'll limp across the finish line — even if we're paddling, we'll be there."

Comanche is still behind US 88-footer Rambler, which leads the race heading into Bass Strait.

Australian yacht Ragamuffin 100 and Italian entry Maserati are just behind the leaders.

Wild Oats' mainsail 'shredded'

Back in port, Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said he was disappointed to be back in Sydney.

"I said to the guys, it's very different feeling to Constitution Dock, that's part of the sport," he said.

"We had a failure, that's the way it is, get on with life."

Richards said the conditions overnight were "tricky".

"A few things sent wrong for us, when the happens it's a snowball effect, the he started to go real bad," he said.

"We lost the main engine of the boat so it was all over.

"It wasn't until we go the mainsail down, back under control and we had a look at the sail and it was shredded. Everyone knew straight away that it was over."

Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore John Cameron said he was surprised by Wild Oats' retirement.

"I thought that Wild Oats would've conserved, and they probably did, but the breezes were getting up over 40 knots at one stage and with those increased speeds, the waves also increased," he said.

"It's very difficult to sail through."

While there is still half the race to go, it is now likely that the blue water classic will have its first international line honours winner since Swedish boat Assa Abloy went first past the post in 2001.

American entry Rambler 88 sails through the ocean swell after leaving Sydney Harbour. © REUTERS/Jason Reed American entry Rambler 88 sails through the ocean swell after leaving Sydney Harbour.

US yacht impresses in debut

Cameron aid he was impressed with Rambler's performance in her Hobart debut.

"It's 12 per cent smaller than the maxis and she's right in there," he said.

"I did say before that we had the four maxis and Rambler was going to be barking at their heels. Well, she's showing them her heels."

He also paid tribute to Wild Oats XI, who has taken out line honours in eight of the past 10 races.

"That is a marvellous feat and something which will stand for a long time to come," he said.

The chaotic weather is expected to calm on Sunday.

The tough overnight conditions took their toll on another of the pre-race favourites, Perpetual Loyal, which retired with a broken rudder and headed back to Sydney.

A total of 92 yachts are continuing towards Hobart.

Others out of the race are: super maxi Perpetual Loyal (broken rudder), Pierre Gal, Inglis 47 (broken mast), Ark 323 (deck damage), Lupa of London (bow), St Jude (broken rudder), Koa (steering issues), CEX Dolce (broken mast), Pazzaz, Brindabella (both with sail damage), Takani, Sydney 47 (both rudder damage) Patrice (mainsail damage), Pretty Fly III and Samurai Jack.

Race media director Di Pearson said the chaotic overnight conditions would continue for part of the morning before calmer conditions prevailed.

"I would imagine the seaway will be quite rough after this big northerly and then changing around to the south they'll still have a rough sort of ride ahead of them during the morning," she said.

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