American super maxi Comanche took the lead at the start and was the first to leave Sydney Harbour in the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race Friday.

Comanche, launched in October and being tested for the first time in race conditions, held a slender lead over seven-time and defending champion Wild Oats XI.

They are two of five super maxis in the 117-yacht fleet that will sail down the New South Wales coast and across Bass Strait to the island state of Tasmania, a total of 628 nautical miles.

Comanche, skippered by former America's Cup yachtsman Ken Read, and the rest of the fleet were expected to face 30-knot southerly winds later Friday.

Wild Oats set the race record of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds in 2012.