- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

SYDNEY (AP) - Smaller boats appear favored for the Sydney to Hobart yacht race because of rough weather.

The event begins Friday and officials say the 117-boat fleet will be sailing into strong southerly winds up to 35 mph on the first night.

“The weather report is what you expect when you come here to the Hobart race,” said skipper Ken Read of Comanche, a new American entry. “It is no surprise and we will all work our hardest to keep our Christmas dinners down, one would imagine, on that first night. But this is what we expect.

“We will try and keep it in one piece. This is a completely untested boat at this stage. I am as curious as anybody as to how she will react.”

In 1998, six sailors died and five yachts sank in a storm that hit the fleet early in the race.

Skippers of the five 100-foot super maxis, including Comanche and defending champion Wild Oats XI, must judge how hard they can push their yachts in the tough conditions. Winds forecast for later in the race are expected to give the smaller, trailing boats a push up the fleet.

Wild Oats won line honors for the seventh time last year, finishing the 628-nautical-mile race in 2 days, 6 hours, 7 minutes. The yacht also holds the race record of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set in 2012.

The race begins in Sydney Harbour, heads south along the coast of New South Wales state and across Bass Strait to the island state of Tasmania and its capital city Hobart.

“It’s certainly not a forecast for a record,” Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards said Wednesday. “The record will get smashed one year, but I don’t think this will be the year.”

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