Wild Oats XI is officially the line honors winner of the Sydney to Hobart race after an international jury dismissed a protest yesterday which threatened the yacht’s fifth win in six years.
The 100-foot super maxi crossed the finish line off Hobart’s Constitution Dock late on Tuesday evening, but its win was jeopardized when the race committee protested, saying the yacht did not have an operational HF radio as it entered Bass Strait, which separates the island state of Tasmania from the Australian mainland.
A five-man international jury meeting in Hobart yesterday dismissed the protest and confirmed Wild Oats as line honors winner.
In its finding, released yesterday, the jury said Wild Oats had attempted to report its position by HF Radio near Green Cape without success. The yacht then contacted the race director by phone and was advised to not continue if the HF radio was not working properly.
Wild Oats altered course for about 20 minutes until it believed the radio was repaired and contacted Hobart radio for acknowledgment before resuming.
“She did not return to course until they received acknowledgment from Hobart radio when they were satisfied at that time that the radio was operational and had a signal strength fit for the ensuing purpose,” the jury report said. “The acknowledgment from Hobart radio satisfied the requirements of sailing instruction 44.2.”
Skipper Mark Richards expressed relief at the jury’s decision.
“You can never be too confident in a protest, but the race committee has done a great job,” he said. “The jury heard the story and got all their facts right and I believe they have come up with the right decision.”
The race committee had protested against both Wild Oats and the English yacht RAN, claiming both did not have functioning HF radios as they passed Green Cape near the southeastern tip of the Australian mainland.
The Cape marks a position at which yachts must compulsorily report their position to race organizers before entering Bass Strait.
The rule requiring mandatory reporting was introduced after the disastrous 1998 Sydney to Hobart race in which six sailors drowned when the race fleet was swept by a massive storm.
Race committee chairman Tim Cox said both Wild Oats and RAN had failed to comply with sailing instruction 44.1(A), which demanded reporting at Green Cape.
Cox said he told Wild Oats’ navigator Adrienne Cahalan not to attempt to cross Bass Strait without an HF radio.
Richards had insisted late on Tuesday his crew had complied with all sailing instructions.
“We’ve got some of the most accredited yachtsmen and women on the planet on board this boat,” he said. “We’re very confident. We’ve done everything by the book. There’s no way, as the -skipper of Wild Oats and as the skipper representing Bob Oatley, that I would’ve left Green Cape without knowing that we were 100 percent complying with the rules in sailing instructions.”
Wild Oats’ owner Bob Oatley also said the race committee had been mistaken.
“It was a mistake and they’ll apologize I’m sure,” he said. “We’ve won the race and we’ll win the protest.”
Sean Langman, skipper of -second-placed Investec Loyal which crossed the finish line almost three-and-a-half hours after Wild Oats and stood to inherit line honors if its rival was disqualified, said he was not concerned with the outcome of the protest.