LDV Comanche is the new line honours winner of the Sydney to Hobart after successfully protesting against Wild Oats XI after a near collision between the two yachts just outside Sydney Heads on Boxing Day.
Wild Oats XI was penalised an hour for the infringement, enough to wipe away the 26 minutes and 34 second winning margin it had when it crossed the finish line on Wednesday evening.
A protest hearing, lasting more than three hours, decided the 73rd Sydney to Hobart and denies Wild Oats XI a ninth line honours win.
The result of the protest voids Wild Oats XI’s race record which goes to LDV Comanche in a time of one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds.
The five-person international jury took witness testimony from LDV Comanche owner Jim Cooney and navigator Stan Honey, Wild Oats XI navigator Ian Burns and tactician Ian Murray.
They found Wild Oats XI was at fault for the near collision and failed to keep clear of LDV Comanche while tacking. Both boats were on a beat to windward between seamarks V and Z just outside Sydney Heads.
Wild Oats XI had the option to do a 720 degree penalty turn in the aftermath after LDV Comanche had raised a red protest flag, but decided against taking the manoeuvre.
“I’m thrilled to be installed as the line honours winner, it’s something we’ve worked so hard for,” Cooney said after the hearing. “It’s always a bit of a shame that it may happen in these circumstances. Both boats sailed a fantastically good race, it was a close fought race all the way.
“The jury’s decided that very clearly there was an infringement. When things come down to the wire so closely like that I think it’s only fair and reasonable that the jury acted the way they did. The boats have to be conducted responsibly and with fair respect to the conditions and the impact that your manoeuvres might have and I felt very strongly that wasn’t the case on Tuesday.”
LDV Comanche had led for most of the race but was overhauled by Wild Oats XI just south of Opossum Bay on Wednesday night and finished more than 26 minutes adrift.
“We’re very disappointed but we’re also good sports and we’ll have to take this one on the chin,” skipper Mark Richards said. “At the end of the day it’s a yacht race, has someone been run over or told you’ve got cancer, no, it’s a yacht race.
“We are very disappointed but I can see the jury’s point of view. They saw the incident the way they saw it, we saw it a bit differently.”
It is the third time in the race’s history that a line honours winner has been penalised post race and subsequently lost first position.
Nirvana came first in 1983 but ran into Condor in the Derwent River, pushing her rival yacht aground. The race was taken from Nirvana and awarded to Condor. Then, seven years later, British boat Rothmans claimed line honours but had flagrantly been advertising the cigarette brand on her spinnaker throughout the race, in contravention of race rules. She was penalised and Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin was handed the line honours win.
The crew aboard Wild Oats XI celebrated on Wednesday night after arriving in Hobart having thought they’d ended a three-year run without victory, but their misfortune has continued for another year.
Twelve months ago the boat retired with a hydraulics issue and in 2015 they shredded their mainsail. The boat was also struck by lightning while docked in the lead up to this year’s event, damaging key navigation equipment.
Meanwhile, the prize for handicap honours looks like going to Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban, who was ahead on the overall standings late on Thursday. Ichi Ban sat more than 20 minutes ahead of Bob Steel’s Quest, who had looked like claiming handicap honours as the fleet tore down Australia’s east coast.
However, Ichi Ban crossed the finish line ahead of Quest, Hollywood Boulevard and Mascalzone Latino on Thursday morning after negotiating the Derwent less than 12 hours after Wild Oats XI was first past the post.
“Matt [Allen] deserves to win – it’s his 28th Hobart,” Steel said. “I’ve had my share, so I am jubilantly disappointed for us but happy for Matt.”
Steel’s crew endured a bumpy ride down to Hobart, despite the spectacular downwind weather conditions which allowed the first five yachts across the line to finish faster that Perpetual Loyal’s race record set last year.
Sailing master Mike Green fell heavily into the port wheel, which was broken in the process, while a number of crew fell through the deck rail, fortunately still tethered to the boat.
“People think running [downwind] is easy, but it isn’t, there’s a lot of pressure on the boat and the crew,” Steel said. “It’s a short race, but a challenging one. You have to work constantly, to keep the boat moving, keep your spinnaker flying without damaging it.”
Just five boats have been forced to retire from this year’s race. Blunderbuss pulled out on Thursday morning with a broken boom while Imalizard’s race ended when she dismasted. They joined Rockall, Jazz Player and Wots Next on this year’s casualty list.
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