Sydney to Hobart yacht race: Favorite Wild Oats out of contention

It has won the prestigious Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race a record eight times, but defending champion Wild Oats XI is already out of contention in this year’s event.

The 100-foot maxi yacht has returned to the Australian mainland after being ruled out of the 628-nautical-mile event due to a torn mainsail on Saturday.

“Early reports indicate that the sail tore in half when the yacht was hit by a 40-knot squall that accompanied a southerly change off the NSW south coast,” said a statement on the boat’s Facebook page.

“The yacht is returning to Sydney. All crew are safe.”

The number of entries pulling out had increased to 10 by 10 p.m. local time Saturday, leaving 98 still racing in the 71st edition of the competition. Not long after Wild Oats’ withdrawal, Pierre Gal’s CEX Dolce broke its mast.

Race debutant Rambler, an 88-footer owned by U.S. businessman George David, led the field from another American vessel, Jim and Kristy Clark’s Comanche.

The owners went head to head at August’s Rolex Fastnet race, with maxi Comanche taking line honors by just under five minutes while Rambler was a clear winner on adjusted time.

Comanche is battling to stay in this race, having suffered a broken rudder which the crew were trying to repair at sea. Skippered by sailing legend Ken Read, its team includes two-time America’s Cup winner James Spithill.

Australian yachting great Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin, third on line honors last year, held the same position Saturday racing with a new hull.

Italian debutant Maserati was fourth, having gone well out to sea in an attempt to avoid the southerly conditions which had been causing havoc with the fleet.

The race had a chaotic beginning in Sydney Harbor, when the official start boat took on water and its passengers had to be returned to the docks, while a hooter launched the competitors rather than the traditional cannon.

The larger boats opened up a big lead heading into open water, but Maserati was left among the smaller craft after hitting a buoy.

There were early casualties, including Chinese entry Ark 323.

“We were dipping down to avoid Rambler, but the boat below us (Ragamuffin 52) did not give us enough room. We have a big crack in our deck,” crew member Faris Bin Aznan said on the official race website.

Lupa of London also came a cropper in the opening skirmishes.

“We were sailing on starboard tack from the start and three boats got locked together — we were in the middle with nowhere to go,” tactician Laurent Pages told the race website.

“We were left with the decision to run into the boat above us, or the one below us. This was the worst thing — the worst feeling — a stupid accident.

“The race director was very clear at the briefing this morning. The race committee told us all to take it easy at the start — there was a whole race to go. If everyone listened, this would not have happened. We are shattered — we came a long way. It seems so unfair.”

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