HOBART, Australia (AP) — Rambler 88 led by six nautical miles over fellow American yacht Comanche early Sunday in a Sydney to Hobart race hit by overnight storms that forced the retirement of more than a dozen entries, including eight-time and defending champion Wild Oats XI.

Nearly 20 hours into the race, Rambler 88, skippered by George David, completed about 250 of the 628 nautical miles to Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania.

Comanche, a 100-foot (30-meter) super maxi, managed to repair at sea a damaged rudder it sustained during the storm. Ragamuffin 100, the only other super maxi left in the race, was in third place, followed by Italian yacht Maserati, a Volvo 70.

Wild Oats XI retired late Saturday when its mainsail was torn in half by the storm, and was returning to Sydney.

Another potential line honors winner, super maxi Perpetual Loyal, left the race with a broken rudder. It was also sailing back to Sydney with a crew that included former Australia cricket captain Michael Clarke and rugby player Kurtley Beale.

Early Sunday, 15 yachts had retired from the 108 starters.

There were 27 international starters in the race, including 12 from the Clipper Round the World Race, who are using the Sydney to Hobart as their fifth leg.

Organizers said the overnight conditions were "really nasty" — winds of up to 44 knots (81 kph, 50 mph) off the New South Wales state south coast. All crew members on the retired yachts were reported to be safe.

Comanche, which led the fleet out of Sydney harbor on Saturday afternoon and for much of the early part of the race, was initially going to return to port after damaging her rudder "but they managed to undertake some repairs while they were out at sea," a race spokesman said.

Comanche was beaten into Hobart a year ago by Wild Oats XI by 55 minutes.

Wild Oats XI, skippered by Mark Richards, is the most prolific winner in the race history, with its eight line honors wins, and set the race's fastest time in 2012 of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds. It underwent extensive renovations this year.

The race hasn't had an international winner since Swedish yacht Assa Abloy in 2001, but John Cameron, commodore of the host Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Sydney, likes Rambler 88's chances.

"It's 12 percent smaller than the maxis and she's right in there," Cameron said of the 88-footer (27-meter boat). "I did say before that we had the four maxis, and Rambler was going to be barking at their heels. Well, she's showing them her heels."