Eight-time winner and defending champion Wild Oats XI has been forced to retire from the Sydney to Hobart race with a torn mainsail.
The supermaxi was trailing leader Comanche late on Saturday night when they pulled out of the iconic race.
“Early reports indicate that the sail tore in half when the yacht was hit by a 40 knot squall that accompanied a southerly change off the NSW south coast,” said the Wild Oats XI statement.
All crew are safe and the yacht will return to Sydney.
Erarlier, Perth-based `M3′ was the fourth boat to retire from the race.
Tasmanian boat Cougar II returned inside an hour wearing the most damage, with an entire corner ripped off the stern after an incident with the bigger Lupa of London.
The British 78-footer also re-docked.
Chinese boat Ark323 came back with a crack in the deck after a prang with a rival yacht, while M3 officially pulled out after her forestay snapped off the top of the rig.
“We could borrow the forestay off Cougar, but just in the best interest with tonight’s storm coming through, it’s probably better to not go out and load it up straightaway,” skipper Brent Fowler told AAP.
“We’ll get all our spare rigging shipped over from WA and return the boat to WA.”
The Hobart entrants weren’t the only ones to crash out early, with start boat Aussie Legend forced into an emergency evacuation of its passengers at Taronga Zoo wharf when it began taking water.
Officials had to revert to using old-school horns and flags instead of the traditional firing of the cannon.
Comanche had earlier powered first into open waters with a blistering start, leaving Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal eating dust at the sea mark.
Defending line honours winner Wild Oats XI had initially bolted out of the Sydney harbour but was overtaken by Perpetual Loyal out of the heads, before Comanche showed serious speed to pull away from her rivals.