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American super maxi Comanche leads fleet late on first day of Sydney to Hobart yacht race

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SYDNEY — American super maxi Comanche held the lead in the Sydney to Hobart late on the first day after an impressive start to the annual ocean race to the island state of Tasmania.

Nine hours into the race Friday, the 100-foot Comanche led seven-time and defending champion Wild Oats XI by two nautical miles. Two other super maxis, Perpetual Loyal and Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin, were third and fourth, respectively.

Comanche was launched in October and is being tested for the first time in tough ocean race conditions.

"It's a little bumpy, but the boat is handling the weather quite well," Comanche skipper and former America's Cup yachtsman Ken Read told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his yacht. "We're at (winds of) 23 to 26 knots and we're pushing hard, looking good."

Earlier, the hi-tech American yacht reached the first turning mark in only 4 minutes, 35 seconds, a 35-second edge over Wild Oats while still in Sydney Harbour.

Comanche's fast start stunned veteran race observers and also impressed Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards, who was heard to say on television "She's smoking. Look at that thing go!"

PHOTO: A helicopter hovers low to get images of some of the competitors during the start of the Sydney Hobart yacht race in Sydney, Friday, Dec. 26, 2014. The 117-boat fleet is expected to have a bumpy first night at sea, with southerly gusting up to 30 knots and choppy conditions. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
A helicopter hovers low to get images of some of the competitors during the start of the Sydney Hobart yacht race in Sydney, Friday, Dec. 26, 2014. The 117-boat fleet is expected to have a bumpy first night at sea, with southerly gusting up to 30 knots and choppy conditions. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

When told of Richards' comments, Read credited his fellow sailors on Comanche.

"The crew pulled the trigger just right," said Read. "But you don't get any awards for the start ..."

Wild Oats set the race record of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds in 2012.

Read said he and the crew hadn't given any thought to breaking the record — "our goal is to try to be the first to finish, if the record comes, it comes."

Based on current conditions and speed, Comanche was forecast to cross the finish line at Constitution Dock in Hobart early Sunday afternoon in just over two days and about six hours slower than the 2012 mark.

There were seven early retirements among the 117 entries, including former winner Brindabella due to rudder damage.

The 87-year-old Fischer set a record as the oldest skipper and oldest sailor of any rank to compete in the race which is being held for the 70th time. Fischer is also making his 46th appearance in the race.

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PHOTO: A helicopter hovers low to get images of some of the competitors during the start of the Sydney Hobart yacht race in Sydney, Friday, Dec. 26, 2014. The 117-boat fleet is expected to have a bumpy first night at sea, with southerly gusting up to 30 knots and choppy conditions. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
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