For the second time in two years, the line honors winner of the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race faced a protest initiated by the race committee. And for the second consecutive time, an international jury threw out the protest and allowed the original finish to stand.
Investec Loyal was declared the official line honors winner yesterday after the jury composed of sailing officials from Japan, Britain, Australia and New Zealand dismissed a protest that the supermaxi had used outside assistance to beat Wild Oats XI by just over three minutes in the event’s closest finish in 29 years.
Investec Loyal crossed the line first on Wednesday, but the race committee alleged Investec Loyal had used a TV helicopter pilot to spy on defending champion Wild Oats XI.
The protest under rule 41 was heard yesterday by the jury, which ruled that the information on Wild Oats XI’s sails received by the winning yacht did not affect the race outcome and was not done to seek any unfair advantage.
Last year, the race committee protested against Wild Oats XI for allegedly not radioing in before crossing the Bass Strait, in contravention of safety rules, but the protest was also later dismissed.
Garry Linacre, commodore of the Sydney-based Crusing Yacht Club of Australia, which organizes the event, rejected suggestions that the reputation of the race had suffered with the consecutive dismissed protests, saying: “We will continue to keep the governance of the sport at the highest level.”
This year’s protest revolved around an audio recording.
In an interview, Investec Loyal tactician Michael Coxon was heard asking a media helicopter pilot: “Can you confirm, does Wild Oats have their trysail up? What color is the mainsail they’ve got up?”
Coxon was interested because he is chief executive of the company that supplied the sails to Wild Oats XI, and had asked out of concern about his business reputation.
Investec Loyal skipper Anthony Bell said he was relieved that the protest was dismissed.
“There’s rules in every sport and while it wasn’t ideal to have to go through this, I think that ultimately it gets beyond any question and whatever those questions were that were asked have been properly answered,” Bell said. “If there is any doubt about it, it’s probably better off to have it out like it is and have a panel of peers to come up with the answers.”
Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said before the jury met that he hoped “common sense will prevail” and that his yacht and crew would refuse to be presented with the trophy if Investec Loyal was disqualified. Richards’ yacht had won the race five of the previous six years.
“It was a great race, great for the sport,” Richards said. “It’s a real shame [about the protest]. We wouldn’t accept it, it wouldn’t be the right outcome at all.”
In a dramatic final day on Wednesday, Investec Loyal overtook Wild Oats XI midafternoon and held on in a tight, tactical tussle to reverse last year’s finishing order, crossing the line just ahead of its rival after 628 nautical miles (1,163km) of racing.
The 100 foot (30.48m) Investec Loyal finished at 7:17pm local time, two days, six hours, 14 minutes and 18 seconds after leaving Sydney.
Wild Oats XI led for most of the race, but finished three minutes, eight seconds behind Investec Loyal. The finish was the closest in a generation, but well outside the narrowest margin in the race’s history: the seven-second gap between Condor of Bermuda and Apollo in 1982.
Lahana crossed the line in third place, more than six hours after Wild Oats XI, while Loki was fourth.
“It was one of the great experiences in my life,” Bell said. “The whole thing from the very start, right through to the finish line was exhilarating.”
The yachts remained in sight of each other in the final hours of the race, and were seldom separated by more than half a kilometer. Wild Oats XI set the race record in 2005 and showed greater speed at times, but Investec Loyal was able to cover its every move in the last 32km.
Coxon said credit for the win belonged to Investec Loyal’s navigator.
“The difference is a gentleman called Stan Honey,” he said. “He is an absolute legend, just amazing. His knowledge of weather and weather routing and the information he provides to me ... at the end of the day he is just so good.”
On the fourth day of racing, 11 yachts had finished and there had been 11 retirements from the original 88-yacht fleet that left Sydney Harbor on Monday.
The most illustrious finisher yesterday was 84-year-old skipper Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin in 10th place. Fischer won line honors twice with a different version of Ragamuffin and has completed 43 Sydney to Hobart races.