December 24, 2014

SYDNEY (AP) The crew of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race's defending champion Wild Oats XI spent most of Christmas Day on Sydney Harbour trying to make up for four days of lost preparation ahead of Friday's start.

Bob Oatley's super maxi, which is attempting a record eighth line honors win, broke its boom last weekend and skipper Mark Richards said his team had been working around the clock to fix the issue ahead of the traditional Boxing Day start.

The boom mishap affected the crew's final week of preparations for a race featuring four other super maxis, including the recently-launched American yacht Comanche.

The 117-boat fleet is expected to have a bumpy first night at sea, with southerlies gusting up to 30 knots and choppy conditions.

''We'll be sailing all day Christmas Day,'' Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said. ''We've missed four days of important preparation and we've got to try and make that up.''

Richards doesn't anticipate his boat's race record of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds set in 2012 will be challenged this year.

Wild Oats won line honors for the seventh time last year, finishing the 628-nautical mile race in 2 days, 6 hours, 7 minutes. The race begins in Sydney Harbour, heads south along the coast of New South Wales state and across Bass Strait to the island state of Tasmania and its capital city Hobart.

Perpetual Loyal owner Anthony Bell said the weather forecast didn't appear to significantly favor any of the big boats.

''For us to do well in this race, we probably have to chance our arm a little bit,'' Bell said.

Comanche skipper Ken Read was blunt: ''We'll all work our hardest to keep our Christmas dinners down.''

Read is eager to find out how his new 100-footer performs in testing race conditions.

''We (will) try to keep it in one piece, we try to anticipate the best we possibly can, but this is a completely untested boat at this stage,'' Read said. ''We're as ready as we'll ever be. It's time to go see what this thing can do.''

Australian Jimmy Spithill, skipper of the victorious Oracle Team USA in the America's Cup last year, is a crew member on Comanche. It's his third Sydney to Hobart - his first was in 1998 aboard Ragamuffin when six sailors died and five yachts sank in a storm that hit the fleet early in the race.

''It was definitely an extreme, no question,'' Spithill said.

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