Calm leaves Sydney-Hobart handicap honours wide open

A battle was under way Tuesday in becalmed waters for the overall winner of the Sydney to Hobart race after American supermaxi Comanche took line honours in Australia's gruelling classic.

After some of the roughest conditions for years turned almost breezeless, local boat Ragamuffin 100 arrived second in the Tasmanian capital during the morning, just seconds ahead of another US contender Rambler.

Italian challenger Maserati, skippered by Giovanni Soldini, was expected to cross the finish line in fourth around midday with Australian entries Chinese Whisper and Ichi Ban further out.

The breathless arrival meant Rambler lost any hope of lifting the Tattersall Cup as handicap winner for the vessel that performs best according to size.

The gales and high seas over the first night and day put 32 yachts out of the race, leaving the smaller boats changing places for the handicap lead in windless conditions on the Bass Strait.

The wind was expected to pick up off Tasmania later Tuesday, pushing the mid-sized yachts home by evening.

The 88-foot Rambler had been the only big boat in the overall top 10 before being becalmed and pipped at the post by 100-foot Ragamuffin, skippered by 88-year-old Australian Syd Fischer.

Archambault 13 Teasing Machine from France was Tuesday morning in the handicap lead, a position she had held for at least 12 hours, race organisers said.

French 35-footer Courrier du Leon has also been in the overall lead group and the JPK 1080 yacht will be hoping to make it two majors in a row after victory in the Fastnet Race.

Comanche was first across the finish line Monday night in the 71st edition of the 628-nautical-mile Sydney-Hobart in two days, eight hours, 58 minutes and 30 seconds.

A savage southerly battered the 108-strong fleet after leaving Sydney Harbour on Saturday on the journey south down Australia's east coast. Punishing winds shredded sails, damaged rudders and hulls, and broke one yacht's mast.

Comanche hit an unidentified submerged object which broke one of her twin rudders and a daggerboard, but after initially considering retirement the crew made repairs and continued on.

Two other strong contenders for line honours -- eight-time fastest finisher Wild Oats XI and supermaxi Perpetual Loyal -- were forced to withdraw with a ripped mainsail and rudder damage respectively.

Comanche co-owner Kristy Clark, the first female owner to take Sydney-Hobart line honours, said there were many emotions at sea, including "pure terror at one stage".

"It's one of the best things I've ever done," she added in Hobart late Monday, where she was met by co-owner husband, Netscape founder Jim Clark.

Comanche, the first American entry to take line honours since 1998, was runner-up to Wild Oats XI in her first Sydney-Hobart last year. She had been hot favourite for 2015 after setting a new 24-hour monohull record of 618.01 nautical miles in July.

Her biggest competition for line honours had come from Rambler which also hit an object in the water on Saturday, sustaining similar damage.

Ragamuffin 100 on Monday was revealed to be the latest of the supermaxis to be damaged, with the port daggerboard sheared off in the blue water event organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

The race record, set by Wild Oats XI in 2012, is one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.