Strong winds and high seas have wreaked havoc on the Sydney to Hobart field, with over a quarter of the field forced to retire by Monday.
By 2pm (AEDT), 26 of the original 88 starters were no longer racing and the other 62 were hoping for less taxing conditions after being battered by heavy southerlies through the latter part of Sunday.
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By the time Boxing Day on the Australian east coast had finished, 18 boats were out of the race and eight more joined the list on Monday morning.
The most prominent withdrawal on Monday was Alive, which won overall honours in 2018 and was fourth in 2019. The 66-foot Tasmanian yacht suffered hull damage and was heading back to Sydney.
Sailors returning to Sydney said it was heavy seas that caused most problems rather the southerly winds they were pushing into.
"The breeze was 33, 34 knots, which is not that bad," said No Limit crew member Declan Brennan, whose boat retired after one of the crew suffered a dislocated shoulder.
"Its curious, it wasn't angry conditions it was a just a very short, sharp seaway.
"The seaway was so inconsistent we were just bouncing around all over the place.
"This is a 63-foot boat. It just didn't make for a sensible thing to continue on."
Tasmania's Cookson 50 Oskana, which won 2013 overall honours as Victoire, retired this year after breaking a headsail foil.
"We couldn't hold a headsail in that track and that was going to make it a really hard race if it's all upwind without a headsail, so we decided to retire, no major damage," Oskana skipper Michael Pritchard said.
"It's the coming down off the waves and landing is what shakes things out of the foils, so unfortunately it blew the foil out."
Cruising Yacht club of Australia commodore Noel Cornish explained the conditions.
"The southerly at up to 30 knots is not an unusual southerly for this sort of race," said Cornish.
"But the north travelling south current going against that 30-knot southerly is what has caused quite steep seas and that's what has done the damage.
"I think as the day progresses it's due to abate as a southerly front just moves through and moves up the coast."
Sydney boats Oz Design Patrice Six and Philosopher withdrew due to engine issues and internal damage respectively.
While the three supermaxis remained in the race as of Monday, the big list of casualties included the TP52 Gweilo, which was considered one of the main contenders to win overall honours, as well as overall handicap contender URM.
“It’s just heartbreaking,’’ URM skipper Marcus Ashley-Jones said.
“We had a 30 knot squall come through. We were putting the reef in and the mainsail failed.”
The first retirements weren't recorded until more than five hours into the race, but they rose rapidly with mainsail damage listed as the cause for many of the stricken yachts.
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Black Jack leads decimated Sydney to Hobart field
Out the front of the fleet on Monday morning, Monaco's Black Jack continued to lead in the battle for line honours.
She was ahead of rival supermaxis LawConnect and SHK Scallywag 100.
The size of Black Jack's lead was hard to confirm as LawConnect had issues with reporting the boat's exact position.
“It’s horrible,” LawConnect navigator Bradshaw Kellett told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I’m hiding in the hatch putting on my wet weather jacket. You can’t see.”
Victoria's 80-foot Stefan Racing, skippered by race stalwart and co-owner Grant Wharington, was also up among the fleet leaders.
Other boats in the top 10 included the 62-foot Whisper and TP52s Celestial and Quest.
The 64-foot Sydney-based boat Khaleesi was leading the overall standing from the 34-foot White Bay 6 Azzurro, which before the race was considered one of the small boats most likely to challenge for the main handicap prize.
In the new Two-Handed division, Tasmania's Sidewinder was leading that contingent of 15 from Victoria's Maverick.
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