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More boats out of Sydney to Hobart as Americans lead

Strong winds knocked out more Sydney to Hobart competitors Sunday, joining eight-time line honours winners Wild Oats XI, as sailors battled wild weather off Australia's east coast, officials said.

Cookson 12 Pazazz (mainsail damage), Hanse 495 Takani (rudder damage) and Brindabella (mainsail damage) were the latest retirements as the 108-strong fleet that set sail from Sydney Harbour on Saturday was whittled down to 95.

The retirement of Wild Oats XI -- which holds the race record of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set in 2012 -- left the race in the hands of American challengers Comanche and Rambler, the organising Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) said.

Comanche, which had been leading the race after bolting out of Sydney Harbour, had worked to repair a damaged daggerboard and rudder and was just off leader Rambler as the pair were set to enter the Bass Strait Sunday morning.

Both had battled strong  southerly winds that hit the gruelling 628-nautical-mile (1,163-kilometre) race, where sailors faced 25-30 knot winds and big gusts against a south flowing current.

"If Rambler survives the final hours of this southerly unscathed, she will be well and truly sitting in the box seat when the winds lighten off and the huge wetted surface of the broad beamed Comanche comes into play," CYCA said in a statement.

Wild Oats XI captain Mark Richards said the conditions were "tricky" but not the worst he had ever experienced.

"Forty knots of breeze, very dark at night," Richards told reporters as his supermaxi and crew returned to Sydney on Sunday morning.

"A few things went wrong for us, when that happens, snowball effect, then it started to go real bad.

"We lost the main engine of the boat so it was all over," he said, adding that the yacht's Aus$200,000 (US$146,000) mainsail was "trashed".

Other retirements on Saturday included line honours contender supermaxi Perpetual Loyal and Ark323, one of two Chinese entries and one of 27 foreign boats in the race.

Storms are not unknown to the race, with six people dying, five boats sinking and 55 sailors rescued on a fatal night in 1998 when a deep depression exploded over the fleet in the treacherous Bass Strait.

But the winds are expected to ease on Sunday, and will be light off the coast of Tasmania as the boats head to Hobart's Constitution Dock, with the first boats not expected to cross the finish line until Monday.


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