Australian supermaxi Investec Loyal’s thrilling Sydney-Hobart win yesterday is under threat after a protest was lodged claiming its crew asked a media helicopter pilot to spy on rival supermaxi Wild Oats XI during the 680 nautical mile (1,259.36km) race.
An international yacht racing committee will hear the protest today. Meanwhile, Investec Loyal has been declared provisional winner, crossing the line only minutes ahead of Wild Oats XI.
If the protest is upheld, skipper Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal yacht could be disqualified or face a time penalty.
The protest says that an Investec Loyal crewmember asked a media helicopter pilot whether Wild Oats XI was using a tri-sail as the two boats sailed down the Australian east coast off the fishing town of Merimbula on Tuesday morning.
Under yacht racing rules, such a request could be viewed as outside assistance.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Gary Linacre told a dockside news conference that the conversation was recorded and sent out and heard by others.
Linacre did not say how the recording came to light, but said the race committee had no choice, but to lodge a protest.
Media reported that the protest was not initiated by race favorite Wild Oats XI.
When the protest was broadcast at a packed Constitution Dock in Hobart, Tasmania, the 8,000-plus spectators fell silent.
In the closest finish in 28 years, Investec Loyal gained the lead from Wild Oats XI yesterday morning after trailing the favorite supermaxi yacht since the start of the race on Monday.
Investec Loyal, crewed by mainly amateur sailors, opted to sail further out to sea than Wild Oats XI, a six-time line honors winner, and picked up better winds in the final stages.
The fresher winds saw Investec sailing at 12 knots (22.2kph), while Wild Oats further inshore could only manage 8 knots.
When the two yachts came together as they neared the entrance to Tasmania’s Derwent River, the lead see-sawed.
“Swings and roundabouts ... every time we get a little break, they come back,” a Wild Oats XI crew member posted on Twitter.
However, in the light and fickle breezes off Tasmania, Investec Loyal picked the best wind shifts to finally take the lead and hold onto it.
“It has been a really testing 24 hours for them. They have not had the really hard conditions of a Sydney to Hobart, but the psychology has been draining. They have always been looking over their shoulders,” race spokesman Bruce Montgomery said.
Less than a nautical mile separated the supermaxis as they sailed up the Derwent River, and toward the finish line, under freshening winds in what looked more like a match-race than the end of a bluewater classic.
Investec Loyal covered every move from Wild Oats XI to cross the line first, taking two days, six hours, 14 minutes and 18 seconds to finish the race, well outside the record of one day, 18 hours and 40 minutes.
Twelve boats retired from the race because of gear failure or crew injury, with the bulk of the fleet still crossing the notorious Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and Tasmania.