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Tight finish likely in Sydney-Hobart race

In this photo provided by Rolex, Wild Oats XI sails south along the Australian coast during the Sydney-Hobart yacht race Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011. The yachts were sailing in good conditions after running into a southerly front on their first night out from Sydney which brought winds of up to 30 knots and rough seas. In this photo provided by Rolex, Wild Oats XI sails south along the Australian coast during the Sydney-Hobart yacht race Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011. The yachts were sailing in good conditions after running into a southerly front on their first night out from Sydney which brought winds of up to 30 knots and rough seas. (AP Photo/Rolex, Daniel Forster)
December 27, 2011
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SYDNEY—Supermaxis Wild Oats XI and Investec Loyal were locked in a tight tactical struggle in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race Wednesday after trading the lead on the way toward Tasmania.

Wild Oats XI, the winner in five of the last six years, lost the lead for the first time since the fleet of 88 yachts left Sydney on Monday. Investec Loyal moved in front during an eventful night of racing in light wind.

But Wild Oats XI later pulled ahead by about one-third of a mile. The leading pair had opened a gap of more than 60 miles over third-place Lahana. Fourth-place Hugo Boss a further 30-plus miles behind.

Wild Oats XI is about 125 miles from the finish. The leading yachts are expected to reach Hobart Wednesday evening.

The 700-mile race, one of sailing's toughest, was essentially reduced to two boats when the supermaxi Wild Thing withdrew because of sail damage while in third place.

Wild Oats XI had led the fleet out of Sydney Harbour and on its southerly course down the east coast of Australia toward Bass Strait and Tasmania.

Strong winds and rough seas on the first night at sea took a toll. Seven yachts had withdrawn by nightfall Tuesday, including 2003 winner Wild Thing. Wild Thing was in third place when skipper Grant Wharington made the decision to withdraw because of sail damage.

"It's going to be really difficult," Wild Oats XI navigator Ian Burns said. "Knowing the guys on Loyal as well as we do -- Stan Honey and Michael Coxon -- we know they will be throwing everything at us if it goes light. Because when you are leading and the wind stops, the boat behind has a bunch of options to go around either side."

"I can see those guys plotting and scheming all evening to put us in a tough spot," he added. "But we will all be working our absolute hardest to keep things going."

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