Wild Oats XI takes line honors in Sydney-Hobart race

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HOBART, Australia (AP) Wild Oats XI took line honors in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race for a record eighth time on Sunday, holding out a late challenge from American super-maxi Comanche in its big race debut.

Australian-owned Wild Oats crossed the finish line to complete the 70th edition of the blue water classic in an unoffical time of 2 days, 2 hours and 2 minutes.

The 100 foot super maxi, owned by winemaker Bob Oatley, has taken line honors in the race eight times in ten years. In winning Sunday, it broke the record of the Australian yacht Morna - later named Kurrewa IV - which took line honors seven times between 1946 and 1960.

Comanche, owned by Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze Clark and skippered by Ken Read, was listed as having about 10 nautical miles to sail when Wild Oats XI crossed the finish line off Battery Point in Hobart just after 3 p.m. local time.

''To have a boat so close for so much of the race is always difficult, especially when they're going faster than you,'' Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards said. ''The old girl, Wild Oats, had the legs all the way round the track and that's what counted.''

Another American super maxi, Rio 100, was in third place about 120 nautical miles behind Comanche and just ahead of Australia's Black Jack and Alive.

Comanche, which was launched in October and is being tested in race conditions for the first time, led most of the first day of the race, after its start Friday on Sydney Harbour.

But Wild Oats XI, skippered by Mark Richards, took over the lead early Saturday morning, shortly before the yachts entered Bass Strait which separates mainland Australia from the island state of Tasmania.

Meteorologists said Wild Oats XI had managed to sail through an atmospheric ridge in Bass Strait, while Comanche had been stalled by it. However skipper Read said it was a promising performance by Comanche.

''This boat is brand new,'' Read said. ''We're just starting and before this race began, we didn't know what we didn't know. Now we have some incredibly valuable experience onboard the boat.

''This boat was fully airborne a few times and it came out of it really well.''

Comanche was able to cut into Wild Oats XI's lead as the yachts headed towards Tasman Island and Storm Bay and finally into the Derwent River which leads to the finish line off the seafront in the Tasmanian capital, but did not have time to catch up.

''They literally just sailed away over the horizon and it was incredibly frustrating, as you can imagine,'' Read said. ''The troops rallied this morning and we were going 32 knots, ripping across, trying to gain every possible mile.

''We needed a break here, some light air coming up the river and it didn't happen, but that's sailboat racing. Wild Oats is an incredibly good program and they deserve all their success.''

Wild Oats owner Oatley said his yacht would likely contest next year's race and he is aiming for 10 line honors victories.

''It's a miracle, an absolute miracle,'' Wild Oats owner Oatley said. ''It's just about (the sweetest victory), but they're all sweet.''