29 yachts including two favourites have been forced to retire from the Sydney to Hobart after a southerly squall hit the fleet off the NSW coast.
The vessels forced out of this year's blue water classic include the defending line honours champion Wild Oats XI, which made the decision to retire due to sail damage.
Another frontrunner, Perpetual Loyal, has been forced to quit the race with a broken rudder.
The Sydney to Hobart fleet reported gusts of around 40 knots overnight in the southerly buster.
Wild Oats XI's mainsail was torn in half by wild winds off NSW's south coast.
JUST IN: There have been more retirements from Sydney to Hobart - Pazazz, Takani, Brindabella and Patrice. #9News— Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) December 26, 2015
All crew members were said to be safe and Wild Oats XI arrived back to Sydney, just before 10am (AEDT).
Wild Oats XI was the favourite to take out the race, and was competing for its ninth title.
The retirement of the race favourite has opened to door for US vessel Rambler 88, which was leading the race on Sunday morning ahead of American super maxi Comanche that also suffered damage in the squall.
1/2 #RSHYR Comanche's Ken Read just called, he says: "We came here to finish, one way or another we’re going to finish this damn race....— Rolex Sydney Hobart (@rshyr) December 26, 2015
2/2 Ken Read cont'd. – "We’ll limp across the finish line even if we’re paddling we’ll be there!" #RSHYR— Rolex Sydney Hobart (@rshyr) December 26, 2015
The last surviving Australian super maxi, Ragamuffin 100, was tracking third.
Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, John Cameron, said he was surprised the list of retirees was not longer.
"One has to expect the unexpected in a Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race and this is what we're getting and it's actually marvellous that the number of boats that have retired are as small as they are," he said on Sunday morning.
"The race is there, and we've got lot of things to happen over the next few days.
"It is going to be exciting to see who ends up getting line honours and who is going to become the overall winner."
Cameron predicted conditions to improve as the fleet headed into Bass Strait.
"The indications are that the breeze is going to lighten gradually over the next few hours and we'll see a different sort of race occurring as they go across Bass Strait and down the east coast of Tasmania," he said.
"We've yet to see how that pans out but it's making for a great race."
In addition to Wild Oats XI, some other retirements are:
- Ark323 (deck damage)
- Lupa of London (bow damage)
- Cougar II (hull damage)
- M3 (broken forestay)
- Dare Devil (broken rudder)
- Cex Dolce (broken mast)
- Perpetual Loyal (broken rudder)
- St Jude (broken rudder)
- Koa (steering damage)
The overnight retirements leaves 89 yachts competing in the 71st annual blue water classic.
On returning to Sydney, Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards described the vessel's retirement as disappointing.
"As I said to the guys, (it's a) very different feeling to Constitution Dock. That's part of the sport. We had a failure, that's the way it is. Get on with life, start planning for next year," he told reporters.
"It wasn't 'til we got the mainsail down ... and it was shredded. Everyone knew straightaway that was the game over."
He estimated the cost of the damage to the super maxi at about $200,000.