Super-maxi Wild Oats XI has been stripped of its line honours win in the 2017 Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race, sensationally ceding victory to LDV Comanche following a protest over a controversial manouevre just minutes after the start on Boxing Day.
Comanche, which had scorched down the course in record-setting time only to falter in the final hours in extremely light winds on the approach to Hobart, lodged a protest over a near-collision with Wild Oats that occurred as the boats were leaving Sydney Harbour.
An international jury imposed a one-hour penalty on Wild Oats XI, blowing out its winning margin which was under 30 minutes ahead of Comanche.
The official race account announced the decision on Twitter.
Breaking: Wild Oats XI had to keep clear, failed to keep clear while tacking, Oats did not do turn. Decision is penalised by one hour. Comanche is line honours winner.
— Rolex Sydney Hobart (@rshyr) December 28, 2017
The incident in Sydney saw the two multi-million dollar yachts almost crash into each other only 15 minutes into the race. It involved Wild Oats XI approaching Comanche on a port tack, while Comanche was on a starboard tack, giving the latter right of way.
This short video shows how close the two boats came to a race-ending collision for both. You can hear the Comanche crew yelling “starboard” as Wild Oats XI holds its course.
#Repost Secret Sailing
The thrilling moment in Rolex Sydney Hobart 2017 as Wild Oats XI tacks on Comanche and gets a protest from her. Was it close clear tacking or penalty?
— RORC (@RORCRacing) December 26, 2017
A boat on starboard tack having the right of way is among the most basic rules in sailing. A boat on a port tack must turn to avoid a collision while the starboard boat can remain on its course.
The video shows that Wild Oats XI did tack, but the jury ruled that Comanche had to take action to avoid a collision, putting Wild Oats XI in breach of the rules.
The near miss was serious enough that Wild Oats XI navigator Ian Burns said on Tuesday evening that the crew had discussed taking a 720-degree penalty turn but decided it wasn’t necessary.
A 720-degree turn would have cost Wild Oats XI a maximum of five minutes in race time which — all other things being equal — would have retained her the line honours and the race record.
As it stands Comanche’s time of one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds becomes the new official race record.
The ruling has ignited a fierce debate in the sailing community, with some arguing the penalty was too harsh.
@CYCAustralia How is it remotely fair that Wild Oats XI is penalised 60 minutes for their infringement of the rules? Completely out of proportion to the actual time that Comanche lost. This is a case of anonymous bureaucrats making a name for themselves.https://t.co/Go4fFnUKyz
— Andy Gorfman (@AndyGorfman) December 28, 2017
What a farce, no way the incident cost Comanche 1 hour. 5 to 10 minutes at most
— Keith Robinson (@KeithRo04685211) December 28, 2017
Ridiculous penalty for a minor incident. It did not cost the CCP-backed Comanche the race. Had Wild Oats won by 2 hours, the penalty would likely have been 3 hours. Penalty should have been administered immediately, rather than made up by a bunch of two-headed hicks 2 days later.
— Ax Man (@axlemaniac) December 28, 2017
Others, however, are strongly supportive of the ruling given the importance of the starboard right of way rule.
A good decision. Upholds the fundamental rules of sailing. Penalty is ok as they had option to take 360 but thought they were above the rules. Time penalty should include the amount of time they wasted of those on the protest committee not just time potentially lost on water!
— P D (@pd_aus) December 28, 2017
exactly, it was clear that the helmsman on Comanche had to change course to avoid a collision, it was an easy issue for WO to both avoid and resolve but chose not to. Easy decision. Surprised about the size of the penalty, but given the length of the race prob not unreasonable
— Mike Nicholls (@Mikenicholls88) December 28, 2017
great decision for integrity of the sport and future sailors. Arrogance punished. Almost every skipper would do two penalty turns…
— Greg Kowalski (@gregk_aussie) December 28, 2017
LDV Comanche owner Jim Cooney said: “I think it’s entirely fair and reasonable that the jury acted as they did. When you’re dealing with boats of this size and this calibre, we are at the elite level of our sport, and the boats have to be conducted responsibly in fair respect of the conditions and the impact that your manouevres might have.
“I felt very strongly that wasn’t the case,” Cooney said. “The rules are there to protect the people and the boats and if we can’t rely on that it’s a difficulty in the sport.”
The Wild Oats XI leaders have been gracious about the ruling.
Skipper Mark Richards said: “We are very disappointed but I can see the jury’s point of view… Everyone’s a genius in hindsight. We made or decisions and have to live with them today. We’ll get back up on the horse.”
Sandy Oatley, whose family owns the eight-time line-honours win, said: “We’d like to congratulate Jim Cooney on the win.”
Soon after the ruling LDV Comanche skipper Jimmy Spithill posted a photo of the boat plowing through the water during the race, saying it was an “amazing run down the coast”.
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