Sailing-Wild Oats XI vies for ninth win in Sydney to Hobart Race

SYDNEY, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Australia's annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race got underway in blustery winds and grey skies on Saturday with favourite Wild Oats XI seeking an unprecedented ninth line honours victory. A total of 108 yachts lined up in Sydney Harbour for the starting gun in Australia's premier bluewater yacht race, including 27 foreign entrants, among them the first from China. Forecasts were for light northeasterly winds initially to be followed by a southerly with thunderstorms and gusts over 30 knots once the crews head out into the Tasman Sea, before conditions ease on Sunday. After seeing off rival Comanche last year to take line honours in the 628-nautical mile race for a record eighth time, despite the U.S. super-maxi taking the early lead, owner Robert Oatley has put Wild Oats XI through a major refit this year lasting three months. A 10-metre section has been cut off the bow and a new longer section fitted, along with modifications to the stern, hull and sails. Nevertheless, Comanche is one of several other fast boats tipped to give the favourite a run for its money this year. The first boats are expected to reach Tasmania on Monday. (Reporting by Chris McCall; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)