SAILING

Defending champion Wild Oats XI forced out of Sydney to Hobart yacht race

Early leader Comanche also in trouble with rudder problems after hitting fierce winds

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 December, 2015, 10:42pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 December, 2015, 10:42pm

Eight-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI pulled out of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Saturday while American super maxi Comanche was attempting repairs after fierce winds hit off Australia’s east coast, officials said.

A 108-strong fleet set sail from Sydney Harbour earlier in the day, but by late evening 10 boats had retired, including one with a broken mast, the organising Cruising Yacht Club of Australia said.

The sail ‘tore in half when the yacht was hit by a 40-knot squall’
Wild Oats XI twitter feed

“Wild Oats XI has retired from the race after reporting a torn mainsail,” the club confirmed.

It said the Mark Richards-skippered crew was returning to Sydney but no further details were available.

Early reports indicated the sail “tore in half when the yacht was hit by a 40-knot squall”, the Wild Oats XI twitter feed stated.

READ MORE: SYDNEY TO HOBART: CHINESE SAILORS PUT TRAGEDY ASIDE AS THEY GET READY TO MAKE HISTORY IN BLUEWATER YACHT RACE

Organisers said the crew of Comanche, which had been leading the race after bolting out of Sydney Harbour, “will try to effect repairs to a rudder and continue racing”.

The front half of the fleet in the gruelling 628-nautical mile race was enduring the brunt of the punishing weather as they sailed into “southerly buster” gale-force winds, the club added.

The navigator on one of the leading yachts, Ichi Ban’s Will Oxley, had reported gusts of up to 43 knots while another boat, CEX Dolce, was returning to Sydney with a broken mast, it said.

Officials had warned of thunderstorms and gales late Saturday as the fleet travelled down the east coast of Australia.

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.

It was an eventful beginning to this year’s race, with three yachts retiring early after collisions just after the start, and another a short time later.

Among them was Ark323, one of two Chinese entries and one of 27 foreign boats in the race which draws spectators on land and in boats in Sydney on Boxing Day.

“Ark323, one of two Chinese entries, retired following a collision 300 metres after the start. All on board were safe,” race organisers said.

Australian boat Cougar II retired at about the same time with damage to her starboard quarter while the British entry Lupa of London also pulled out with a damaged bow after a collision.

Another boat, M3, withdrew after shattering its forestay, her crew deciding that the harsh weather forecast ruled out a possible repair and rejoining of the race.

Line honours contender super maxi Perpetual Loyal and St Jude were later retirements, both understood to have sustained rudder damage from the rough weather in the evening, while Koa withdrew with steering damage.

Rambler was in the lead late on Saturday, ahead of Comanche, Ragamuffin 100 and Maserati.