SYDNEY (Reuters) - Defending line honors champion Wild Oats XI was the biggest casualty among 10 vessels forced to retire overnight as heavy winds decimated a Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race fleet being led by U.S. entry Rambler 88 early on Sunday.
As the field headed into the Bass Strait, early leader Comanche was in second place behind George David’s boat with Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin 100 making up the top three places.
Race organizers said Comanche had initially retired after suffering a broken rudder but the American yacht was continuing after carrying out repairs at sea. Australia’s Wild Oats XI, which was hoping to break its own record for a ninth line honors victory, was forced to retire with a torn mainsail after falling victim to a sudden change of winds.
A southerly wind shift late on Saturday brought winds of up to 40 knots. Other boats suffered hull, mast, steering and deck damage but all crews are reported safe and all retired yachts except one are heading back to Sydney. Among the other boats forced out was Perpetual Loyal, whose crew included former Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke.
Organizers said one yacht emerging as a potential dark horse in the race was Maserati, which was well out to sea and appeared to be gambling on skirting the treacherous southerly course.
Reporting by Chris McCall; Editing by John O'Brien