SYDNEY  - The Sydney to Hobart yacht race got off to a controversial start Wednesday with fancied supermaxi Wild Thing scratched at the last minute due to paperwork issues. Race favourite Wild Oats XI -- tipped for a sixth line honours win and hoping to clock a new race record -- led the 76-vessel fleet out of Sydney Harbour in record time and took a commanding lead early boosted by a strong southerly.

But the start of the annual 628-nautical mile bluewater classic was overshadowed by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA)'s decision to rule out Grant Wharington's 100-footer Wild Thing due to paperwork problems.

The 2003 line honours winner was among the top three race favourites but officials scratched it just three hours before the start citing incomplete documentation of major modifications extending the vessel to 100 feet (30 metres). The veteran skipper said he had been "blindsided" and was "dumbfounded" at the decision.

"We are absolutely devastated to be told at the 11th hour that we are unable to race to Hobart," a furious Wharington told reporters. "We're a bit stuck for words as to why it happened, the situation, we provided the documentation -- I've got it in my hand."

Wharington said he had been granted approval to race on Wednesday and had received no indication in the hours before the decision that there was a problem. He attended the final pre-race briefing Wednesday and was doing the last run-through with his crew on board the yacht, his phone switched off, when race officials announced Wild Thing's disqualification to the media.

"As everybody turned their phones back on, (there were) obviously hundreds of messages that it was all over the press, that we were knocked out, and we were absolutely dumbfounded," he said, blasting it as "nonsensical".

CYCA commodore Howard Piggott said officials had been working with Wharington for days on the documents, giving him until 10:00 am on race morning to file the necessary proof that its modifications met international standards. "However, that has not been forthcoming, and the race committee has no option but to not accept the entry of Wild Thing," Piggott said.

"This is the final decision of the race committee that puts safety first," he added. Piggott said it was disappointing but insisted the CYCA had made every effort and the matter was "out of our hands".