SYDNEY • Disaster struck eight- time winner Wild Oats XI yesterday, as it was forced to retire from the Sydney to Hobart race with keel damage.
It was the second straight year that the local favourite - the race's most successful yacht - had to pull out from the gruelling 1,163km event.
"The race leader Wild Oats XI has been forced out of the race with a keel problem, a hydraulic problem," the team's media manager Rob Mundle said in a video posted online.
"The yacht is in the middle of Bass Strait. She's now turned back to head towards Eden (a town some 480km south of Sydney). She should be there sometime early tomorrow."
Mundle added that the crew were safe and there were "no great dramas with the yacht".
The super maxi withdrew from the race last year after its mainsail ripped, with rival Comanche - which is not competing this year - taking line honours.
Wild Oats, skippered by Mark Richards, was leading the race yesterday morning and was on course to challenge the record of 1 day 18hrs 23min 12sec that it set in 2012.
But as it approached the north-east coast of Flinders Island in eastern Bass Strait, it suffered damage to the hydraulic ram, which adjusts the angle of the canting keel beneath the hull.
The crew were able to manually stabilise the keel, but made the decision to withdraw from the race.
Perpetual Loyal - helmed by Anthony Bell - assumed the lead after the withdrawal, with Giacomo in second place ahead of Maserati.
It remained on race-record pace and, supported by good easterly winds yesterday, could finish hours inside the record early this morning in Hobart.
Apart from Wild Oats, two other vessels have been forced to retire this year - Freyja, a 71-year-old timber cruiser blowing out her headsail, and Dare Devil breaking a rudder. This leaves 86 yachts at sea.