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Super-yachts on track to smash Sydney to Hobart record

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Rival supermaxis LDV Comanche and Wild Oats XI were battling to set a new record time for the gruelling Sydney to Hobart race Wednesday, as they powered down Australia's east coast on favourable winds.

[SYDNEY] Rival supermaxis LDV Comanche and Wild Oats XI were battling to set a new record time for the gruelling Sydney to Hobart race Wednesday, as they powered down Australia's east coast on favourable winds.

The 100-footers were sailing down the Tasmanian east coast at 20-30 knots before a strong north-easterly wind in what organisers describe as an "astonishingly fast race".

Comanche was about 11 miles ahead of eight-time winner Wild Oats, which has been closing the gap between the pair on Wednesday morning.

Regarded as one of the toughest yacht races in the world, the 628-nautical mile (1,163-kilometre) bluewater classic kicked off in Sydney Harbour Tuesday, with 102 competitors heading down the east coast of Australia.

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One yacht - the German TP52 Rockall - has retired from the race, after suffering from a broken rudder earlier Wednesday.

Chasing the leaders were fellow supermaxis Black Jack and InfoTrack, last year's record-winning boat under the name Perpetual Loyal.

Hong Kong businessman Karl Kwok's 80-footer Beau Geste was fifth ahead of last year's overall winner, Giacomo, now racing as Wizard.

Comanche and Wild Oats were estimated to arrive in Hobart after 7.00pm local time (0800 GMT) Wednesday according to computer predictions, well inside the record time of 1 day 13hr 31min 20sec, organisers said.

To break the record, the yachts have to finish before 2.31am local time Thursday (1531 GMT).

But their race to the finish line could be delayed on the notoriously sluggish Derwent River leading to Hobart.

"The good news is that the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a continuing north-easterly in the river tonight, which, while not from a favourable direction, at least represents continuing wind," the organisers said.

This is the strongest line-up of supermaxis to contest the Sydney to Hobart, with all four having won line honours in previous races.

The gains for Wild Oats came even though she sailed "bare-headed" - mainsail only - for some time after damaging the topsail, which is suited to the conditions.

But if Wild Oats crosses the finish line ahead of Comanche, a formal protest set to be lodged by the later boat could play a crucial role in determining the winner.

Comanche indicated Tuesday she would file a complaint - which could result in a minimum five-minutes penalty - after the two super-yachts almost collided early in the race when Wild Oats appeared to tack too close.

In the race for the Tattersall Cup (overall winner) - the handicap honour for the vessel that performs best according to size - Matt Allen's new TP52 Ichi Ban was leading the charge ahead of Wizard.

Organisers said the boats would get more wind the further south they sail, with the breeze across Bass Strait throughout the day expected to be in the 25-35 knot range.

AFP