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American yachts lead Sydney-Hobart, defending champion out

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HOBART, Australia (AP) American yachts Comanche and Rambler 88 led the Sydney to Hobart fleet into Bass Strait on Sunday in a race with nearly 30 retirements due to bad weather, including eight-time and defending champion Wild Oats XI.

Nearly 34 hours into the race, the 100-foot super maxi Comanche, skippered by Ken Read and which was forced to make repairs to a damaged rudder after an overnight storm, led Rambler 88 by 10 nautical miles.

Comanche had covered nearly 400 of the 628 nautical miles to Hobart on the island state of Tasmania. Rambler 88 took the race lead when Comanche had the rudder problems which were serious enough for Read and his crew to consider pulling out and returning to Sydney.

Comanche passed Rambler 88, which is skippered and owned by George David, in easing winds just before the 24-hour mark Sunday. Based on current projections, the leading yacht could cross the finish line at Constitution Dock in Hobart late Monday.

Rambler 88 had equipment problems of its own later Sunday.

''We had a bit of a disaster ... we hit a submerged object with our starboard daggerboard so our boat speed on port tack is severely limited,'' navigator Andrew Cape said. ''It was a pretty solid hit ... it knocked the boat and did quite a bit of damage to the board, so it's not the best scenario.''

Australia's Ragamuffin 100, the only other super maxi left in the race, was in third place, followed by Italian yacht Maserati.

The Sydney to Hobart race hasn't had a foreign winner since Swedish entry Assa Abloy in 2001.

Wild Oats XI, also a super maxi, retired late Saturday when its mainsail was torn in half by the storm.

''To fight on, we could have put the crew into real dangerous situations,'' Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards said when the yacht returned to Sydney.

Another potential line honors winner, super maxi Perpetual Loyal, left the race with a broken rudder. It also sailed back to Sydney with a crew that included former Australia cricket captain Michael Clarke and rugby player Kurtley Beale.

The 29 retirements, of 108 starters, by late Sunday were already higher than last year's 14 for the entire race.

Race officials said Sunday that one of the crew members on the retired yacht Black Jack has sustained a broken leg. The 70-foot boat, carrying a crew of 12, was sailing to Jervis Bay, New South Wales, where the crew member was to be treated at an Australian naval base.

There were 27 international starters, including 12 from the Clipper Round the World Race, who are competing in the Sydney to Hobart as the fifth leg of their series.

Sydney-born Jimmy Spithill, the winning skipper in the last America's Cup aboard Oracle Team USA, is a crew member on Comanche. It was beaten into Hobart a year ago by Wild Oats XI by 55 minutes.

Wild Oats XI is the most prolific winner in the race's history. Along with its eight line honors wins, it set the race's fastest time in 2012 of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds.