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Three battle it out in Sydney-Hobart

Alfa Romeo leads Wild Oats and ICAP Leopard out of Sydney Harbor at the start of the yachting classic.
Alfa Romeo leads Wild Oats and ICAP Leopard out of Sydney Harbor at the start of the yachting classic.
  • Three giant yachts are battling it out for line honors in Sydney-Hobart classic
  • New Zealand's Alfa Romeo leads from ICAP Leopard and Wild Oats X!
  • Wild Oats bidding for fifth straight line honors success in 628 nautical mile test

(CNN) -- The race for line honors in the annual Sydney-Hobart yacht race is developing into a thrilling battle between three giant maxi yachts.

Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo was leading after the fleet emerged from the first night, but less than five nautical miles separated the New Zealand 100-footer from British entry ICAP Leopard, skippered by Mike Slade, and four-time line honors winner Wild Oats X1, with Australian Mark Richards at the helm.

Light winds have ruled out a realistic chance of any of the contenders breaking the race record set by Wild Oats in 2005 of one day, 18 hours and 40 minutes, but the three-way tactical battle is the closest for several years.

The official race Web site reported that the three leaders were traveling at just over 11 knots with an east-south east wind as they headed to the finish in the Tasmanian capital.

100 yachts started the 628-nautical mile "Bluewater Classic" from Sydney Harbor on Boxing Day and it made for the usual impressive spectacle.

Four retirements had taken place by daylight, with Alan Brierty's Limit, representing the organizing club, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, going out due to rigging problems.

Limit was one of the favorites for overall victory on handicap.

The annual race was first held in 1945 and has been hit by severe weather conditions in previous years.

In 1998, six competitors died and several boats were lost during a fierce storm on the first night.

Two years ago the fleet was also hit by similar conditions and eight yachtsman had to abandon a sinking craft.

The forecasted light winds are expected to favor the bigger yachts who can use their giant spinnakers to good effect as they head for Constitution Harbor in Hobart.