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Supermaxis under challenge in closely fought Sydney-Hobart classic

updated 10:55 AM EST, Thu December 26, 2013
The 94-strong fleet leaves Sydney Harbor on Boxing Day on its way to Hobart in Tasmania.
The 94-strong fleet leaves Sydney Harbor on Boxing Day on its way to Hobart in Tasmania.
  • Rolex Sydney-Hobart yachting classic gets underway Boxing Day
  • 628-nautical mile race nicknamed 'Bluewater Classic'
  • Wild Oats XI favorite for seventh line honors win
  • New Zealand boat Giacomo challenges supermaxis

(CNN) -- Six-time winner Wild Oats XI was involved in a tense battle for the race lead as the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht race entered its first night Thursday.

Wild Oats XI and fellow 100-foot supermaxi Perpetual Loyal led the 94-strong fleet out of Sydney Harbor on Boxing Day morning in a spectacular and fast start.

But both have close company in the form of Giacomo -- a smaller Volvo 70 class boat -- owned by New Zealander Jim Delegat.

Giacomo -- then named Groupama -- was the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race winner and could pose a threat to the supermaxis, given favorable conditions.

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Read: Official Rolex Sydney-Hobart website

With the big entry for the 'Bluewater Classic' organizers insisted on a three-line start and in early tussling Perpetual Loyal and arch-rivals Wild Oats XI tangled.

Perpetual Loyal flew a protest flag but decided not to proceed after a team meeting.

"At first we thought we had been fouled," owner Anthony Bell to the race's official website.

He added later: "Pretty light winds (11-12 knots ) so doing our best to keep boat going as fast as we can in non-ideal conditions."

The scene looks set for the closest finish to the 628-nautical mile race for many years with two other 100-footers Ragamuffin (Syd Fisher) -- last year's runner-up to Wild Oats -- Grant Wharington's Wild Thing and the Hong Kong entry Beau Geste -- a black-hulled 80-footer -- also in contention.

Read: Wild Oats XI clinches 2012 edition in record time

Conditions are likely to rule out the race record of one day 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds -- set in 2012 by Wild Oats XI -- being bettered, while the weather forecast of gale-force winds Saturday night is likely to hit the smaller and slower boats in the fleet.

Six sailors died in the infamous 1998 edition, with five yachts sinking and nearly half the fleet retiring.

This year's is the 69th staging of the Sydney-Hobart, with 22 international entrants battling for line and handicap honors with the Australian challengers.

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