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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Damaged U.S. super-maxi Comanche led the field early on Monday in a strong position to take line honors as the toughest Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race for more than 10 years neared the finish after bad weather forced out nearly a third of the fleet.
Two American boats held the top two positions as the leaders worked their way down Tasmania's east coast and the bad weather eased overnight.
Both Comanche and compatriot Rambler 88 have suffered damage in winds of up to 40 knots that also forced out the pre-race favorite, Australian record-holder Wild Oats XI.
After a 13-hour chase, Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze-Clark's Comanche regained the lead from George David's Rambler 88, despite making running repairs to a damaged rudder and daggerboard that nearly forced Comanche to join Wild Oats as a withdrawal.
Comanche steadily extended their lead overnight after regaining the momentum that saw them charge off down the New South Wales coast way ahead of its rivals on Saturday.
The two U.S. boats were ahead of Australia's Ragamuffin 100 and Italy's Maserati.
It would be a sweet success for Comanche, who led the field early last year but were ultimately run down by Wild Oats XI, who secured a record-breaking eighth win.
Another impressive start by Comanche on Saturday nearly came undone when they broke a rudder a few hours later and while they retired briefly, skipper Ken Read decided to carry on despite the damage.
Organizers have described this year's race as the toughest since 2004, a year when nearly half the entrants retired early.
However, barring a major last-minute upset, Comanche looked on course to score their first line honors victory later on Monday with a projected finish time at around 7 pm local (0800 GMT).
Reporting by Chris McCall; l Editing by Greg Stutchbury