Protest against Wild Oats XI was dismissed

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Wild Oats XI has kept its Sydney to Hobart line honours victory after a protest against the yacht was dismissed.

Runner-up Black Jack claimed post-race that Wild Oats XI did not have its Automatic Identification System (AIS) switched on and that they were disadvantaged.

The protest, brought against Wild Oats XI by the race committee, was dismissed by a five-person international jury on Saturday afternoon.

“It was found that the protest was invalid and so Wild Oats XI retains her line honours crown,” event organisers said in a statement.

“The Race Committee’s investigation and subsequent protest arose from the report from the owner of Black Jack, a competitor in the Race and therefore a person with a conflict of interest within the meaning of the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS).

“The Race Committee’s investigation was prudent, however in these circumstances, for the protest to be valid under the Racing Rules of Sailing, a competitor with information about a potential rule breach must lodge the protest.”

Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richard said the jury’s decision was common sense.

“We go to the upmost length to do everything by the rules,” he said.

“It’s a shame that this came about. Any protest is unfortunate but it’s part of the sport. We totally respect the decision.”

The Sydney to Hobart race protest put a cloud over Wild Oats XI’s line honours for the second consecutive year.

The five-person independent jury determined that Wild Oats XI was still the victor.

Wild Oats XI lost line honours in last year’s race to Comanche after being hit with a time penalty for an infringement at the start of the race.

Wild Oats XI skipper does a shoey

Speaking to the media this morning, Paul Billingham hinted that a similar fate could befall the supermaxi again this year, with time penalties a consideration.

“Ccommittee took its own internal review into the information and other sources and decided there was a case to answer,” Billingham said.

“There’s a whole range of penalties, this is assuming it is upheld. It could be no penalty, or it could be through to something in terms of time or otherwise.”

A protest was lodged late on Friday night by the race committee after runner-up Black Jack claimed post-race that Wild Oats XI’s Automatic Identification System was not on during sailing.

Committee said in statement it received a report from Black Jack saying the AIS had not transmitted “throughout the race”.

The protest arrived after Wild Oats XI was first to cross the finish line at 8.07am on Friday in Hobart following one of the closest contests in the event’s history.

It was relief for the crew, who were forced to retire in 2015 and ’16.

“It’s a day of redemption for us that’s for sure. We’re so happy with the result,” skipper Mark Richards said.

A pack of four supermaxis fought tooth and nail over the 628 nautical mile race, with Wild Oats XI pulling ahead just before dawn on the final day.

Black Jack finished just 29 minutes behind Wild Oats XI in second. Comanche followed closely in third, with Infotrack fourth.

After reaching Hobart, Black Jack owner Peter Harburg said his yacht was disadvantaged because Wild Oats XI’s AIS was not on and they couldn’t detect where the opposition boat was sailing.

Wild Oats XI relish ‘redemption’ victory

“The rules say it’s got to be on all the time,” he told the ABC.

“We didn’t know where they were, and they knew where we were all the time, so that has disadvantaged us.”

Sydney to Hobart regulations required an AIS transponder to be carried and switched on so that it is receiving and transmitting.

Richards has brushed off the controversy as a storm in a tea cup.

Wild Oats XI navigator Juan Vila told he had turned the AIS on and believed the system had been on for the entire race, which could point to a malfunction.

Wild Oats XI won in a time of one day, 19 hours, 7 minutes and 21 seconds, after an overnight gamble to sail a wider route near Tasman Island paid off.

“That was a game-winning manoeuvre right there,” Richards said.

Richards had a traditional dip in the River Derwent, champagne drenching and not-so-traditional ‘shoey’ at the end of the 74th edition of the race.

It is the first line honours win for Wild Oats XI since the passing of owner Bob Oatley in 2016.