An alleged infringement at the start of this year’s Sydney to Hobart yacht race could cost Wild Oats XI its record win.
Runner-up yacht Comanche has lodged a formal protest over a near-collision on Boxing Day it says cost it significant time.
An international jury will hear the protest in Hobart this afternoon, meaning we could know the result later this evening.
Before that happens, let’s take a look at exactly why Comanche has complained and what it could mean for the overall result.
First let’s recap the result:
Wild Oats XI finished the race in record time last night, crossing the finish line at 9:50pm (local time).
That’s 4 hours and 40 minutes faster than the previous record held by the yacht, Perpetual LOYAL.
Comanche crossed the finish line 26 minutes and 34 seconds after Wild Oats XI.
What’s the alleged infringement?
Comanche’s skipper Jim Cooney says Wild Oats XI made a manoeuvre — possibly a crash tack — that could have caused the two boats to collide.
According to Cooney, that meant Comanche was forced to take evasive action, which cost his crew valuable time.
What is a crash tack?
- A crash tack occurs when a yacht tacks suddenly on top of someone else’s, endangering both yachts
- It can be either an aggressive tack or in error, depending on the eye of the viewer
- It’s a match racing tactic normally just between two boats when they are racing close together
- If yachts are too close, there can be a crash tack in effect a tack which could have induced a crash if the other hadn’t taken evasive action
One of the issues with this move was that it was made while Comanche was supposed to have the right of way.
“We hailed starboard, they were the give-way boat and they left it until far too late to tack and they tacked right in our water,” he said.
“We had to take evasive action or possibly take both of us out of the race. We could have taken their backstay out. They could have broken our bowsprit.
“It looked like they fouled us.”
What do sailing experts say?
Commodore John Markos, the president of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, which hosts the Sydney to Hobart, said the manoeuvre looked strategic and deliberate.
“I know [Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards] called his crew and said he was tacking. His position was where he decided to place the boat,” he said.
“While observers might think that’s a crash tack, he was actually taking [the boat] through a controlled manoeuvre as far as I could see.
Richards described it as an “altercation” and said he was not concerned.
“We are in this race with good intent and I hope the decision today reflects that,” he said.
What could that mean for Wild Oats XI?
If the jury finds Wild Oats XI at fault, the boat may incur a time penalty.
That could mean minutes will be added to the boat’s final time and it may slip back from first place.
The minimum penalty — if one is imposed — is five minutes.
That would allow Wild Oats XI to keep the title.
But Mr Markos says it could be more.
“The jury has a fairly wide ranging discretion to determine whatever penalty it wants to,” he said.
“It starts with a number of minutes, but it can go all the way to dropping places. There’s a number of things they can do.”
When will we get a decision?
The jury will sit at 3:00pm (local time) to hear evidence from both parties before making a decision.
There are five members on the jury who all have special accreditation from World Sailing, the international peak sailing association, to make these decisions.
There are reports the decision could be made within an hour, but Mr Markos says don’t hold your breath.
“They’ll sit down and take evidence from the crew making the complaint, from the crew that is being complained of and they’ll probably look at footage,” he said.
“It could be as quick as an hour, but I honestly expect it to be a couple of hours. I wouldn’t expect a result before 6:00pm.”