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Wild Oats XI leads after rival Wild Thing prevented from starting Sydney-Hobart

updated 1:47 AM EST, Thu December 27, 2012
Wild Oats XI leads the fleet out of Sydney harbor on Boxing Day in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart yacht race.
Wild Oats XI leads the fleet out of Sydney harbor on Boxing Day in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart yacht race.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Five-time line honors winner Wild Oats XI leads Rolex Sydney-Hobart
  • Wild Oats hoping to set race record for 628-mile bluewater classic
  • Long-time rival Wild Thing disqualified before start
  • Officials unhappy with modifications to the super-maxi

(CNN) -- Favorite Wild Oats XI led going into the first night of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race after fellow super maxi Wild Thing was prevented from starting on Boxing Day by race officials.

Wild Oats, last year's line honors winner Ragamuffin Loyal, and Wild Thing were expected to dominate the 628-mile bluewater classic with hopes of a new race record in strong southerly winds.

But race organizers, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), scratched Grant Wharington's Wild Thing just three hours before the start, citing incomplete documentation.

Wharington's yacht had undergone modifications to extend it to 100 feet, but they fell foul of the rules, leaving an angry skipper to vent his feelings to the media.

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"We are absolutely devastated to be told at the 11th hour that we are unable to race to Hobart," a furious Wharington told AFP.

"We're a bit stuck for words as to why it happened, the situation, we provided the documentation -- I've got it in my hand."

Official Rolex Sydney-Hobart website

But CYCA commodore Howard Piggott defended their decision, saying they had warned Wharington his paperwork did not prove the modifications met international standards.

"The race committee has no option but to not accept the entry of Wild Thing," Piggott told the official race website.

"This is the final decision of the race committee that puts safety first," he added.

Last year's race was also hit by a controversy after Investec Loyal (now renamed Ragamuffin Loyal) pipped Wild Oats XI for line honors in a dramatic finish in Tasmania.

The winner had to survive a protest from the race committee which alleged one of its crew members had gleaned information from a TV helicopter crew about the sails being deployed by Wild Oats.

Without Wild Thing, the 76-strong fleet made the usual spectacular exit from Sydney Harbor with Wild Oats establishing an early advantage.

But hopes of breaking its own race record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds set in 2005 appeared to be fading with Ragamuffin Loyal, skippered by 85-year-old Syd Fischer, in hot pursuit.

Behind the super maxis, the rest of the fleet is battling for handicap honors, which take into account each yacht's dimensions and sail area.

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