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Comanche wins Sydney to Hobart race

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HOBART, Australia (AP) Badly damaged and having come close to withdrawing, American yacht Comanche crossed the finish line Monday to take line honors in a storm-wracked Sydney to Hobart race.

The 100-foot super maxi, owned by Netscape founder Dr. Jim Clark and skippered by Ken Read, reached the line off Hobart's Constitution Dock at 10 p.m. local time to complete the 628 nautical-mile race in 2 days, 8 hours, 58 minutes, 30 seconds.

It was the first American winner since 1998 and the first foreign winner since Sweden's Assa Abloy in 2001.

Australia's Ragamuffin 100 crept over the finish line Tuesday morning only meters ahead of American yacht Rambler 88 after the two super maxis had engaged in a slow-motion race for second place.

Rambler had held a broad lead over Ragamuffin and was expected to finish late Monday night but the wind died and the two yachts, both also badly damaged, ended up drifting only meters apart.

''We used what pressure there was to slip by Rambler,'' Team Ragamuffin posted on their Facebook page. ''Now there is not much of anything. Going to be close.''

Ragamuffin passed Rambler as the yachts turned towards Hobart and throughout Tuesday morning they crept along the Derwent River to the finish at barely two knots. The Australian yacht finally crossed in second place around 9 a.m. local time, more than 11 hours after Comanche.

Comanche's win was made more remarkable by the fact skipper Read came close to withdrawing from the race on its first night Saturday when Comanche turned back to Sydney after striking an unknown object, damaging its port rudder and dagger board.

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''All of a sudden (there was) a big bang and a lot of crunching carbon fiber,'' Read said. ''Before you know it we had a dagger board that was trying to break a hole in the bottom of the hull and trying to rip our rudder out at the time same time. It wasn't ideal. We really thought we were out of the race at the time.''

Read radioed the race director at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Sydney to say Comanche would be pulling out, then had second thoughts and decided the yacht and crew had come too far to give up. That decision forced the crew to learn to sail the yacht in an entirely new way, avoiding long periods on starboard tack.

''I've gone around the world a couple of times and I don't think I've come into a dock ... as wounded as this boat is,'' Read said.

Rambler also suffered serious dagger board damage when it struck a submerged object on Saturday night as it led the race, before slowing and seeing Comanche slide past. Ragamuffin was damaged when high winds and heavy seas struck the fleet on the first night out from Sydney, losing its port dagger board when it crashed heavily off a wave.

Italian yacht Maserati was expected to finish in fourth place later Tuesday.

More than 30 of the 108 yachts entered in the race had withdrawn by Monday, mostly because of damage. The Australian yacht Victoire pulled out Sunday when skipper Darryl Hodgkinson suffered broken ribs and a suspected punctured lung in a fall.

Meanwhile, the German yacht Haspa Hamburg rejoined the race Monday, a day after pulling into the coastal town of Eden to make repairs.

Comanche made its race debut in last year's Sydney to Hobart race, finishing second behind eight-time winner Wild Oats XI, which was also a casualty of this year's first-night storm. More recently, Comanche won the Fastnet race ahead of Rambler.