Black Jack takes early lead in Sydney to Hobart

SYDNEY (AP) — Supermaxi Black Jack was the first yacht through Sydney Heads for the second successive year as the 74th Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race commenced on Wednesday.

In front of tens of thousands of onlookers on the shore and a flotilla of spectator boats on Sydney Harbour, Black Jack reached the first rounding mark in a little over 13 minutes just ahead of rivals InfoTrack and Wild Oats X.

International entry Sun Hung Kai Scallywag from Hong Kong was fourth, followed by Winning Appliances.

Line honors favorite Comanche rounded the mark in sixth as the 85-strong fleet began its southerly course for the 628 nautical mile passage to Hobart, Tasmania.

This year's race features its first all-female crew, skippered by Australian Stacey Jackson but with sailors from Britain, New Zealand, the U.S. and the Netherlands. The tactician on Wild Oats X is Australian Katie Spithill, sister of America's Cup racer Jimmy Spithill.

Comanche, skippered by Jim Cooney, set the race record of 1 day, 9 hours, 15 minutes, 24 seconds while winning last year in controversial circumstances. First-place finisher Wild Oats XI, which has won line honors nine times, was given a one-hour time penalty for an illegal tack on Comanche while still in Sydney Harbour, giving Comanche the win.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the infamous 1998 race where six sailors died after the fleet was hit by a large storm.

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