December 28, 2011 by staff
Sydney-Hobart Protest, Supermaxi Investec Loyal’s victory Wednesday in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race was immediately placed under protest by the race committee amid allegations the provisional winner used a television helicopter pilot to spy on runner-up Wild Oats XI.
Investec Loyal beat Wild Oats by 3 minutes, 8 seconds in one of the closest finishes in the history of the prestigious ocean-racing event.
The protest under rule 41, which refers to the use of outside assistance, will be heard at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania on Thursday.
The race committee, chaired by Tim Cox, said the incident occurred at 6.30 a.m. Tuesday, 30 nautical miles south of Merimbula on the south coast of New South Wales State. The protest describes an “audio recording of conversation between ABC helicopter and Investec Loyal.”
“Crewman from Investec Loyal seeking information from the helicopter of the sail plan in use on Wild Oats XI,” the protest said.
In a dramatic final day, Investec Loyal overtook Wild Oats XI in the afternoon and held on in a tight, tactical tussle to reverse last year’s finishing order.
The 100-foot Investec Loyal, skippered by Anthony Bell, finished at 7:15 p.m., completing the 628 nautical miles in 2 days, 6 hours, 14 minutes, 18 seconds.
The race was the first since 1997 to still be actively contested in the Derwent River that leads to the finish line off Constitution Dock in Hobart, capital of the island state of Tasmania.
The finish was the closest in a generation, but was well outside the narrowest margin in the race’s history – the 7-second gap between Condor of Bermuda and Apollo in 1982.
Third-place Lahana was about 50 miles from the finish line when the top two crossed and was expected to finish after midnight. Fifth-place Loki, which had 60 miles to run, was narrowly leading the race on handicap when Investec Loyal finished.
Loyal’s narrow win capped an exhilarating final 24 hours in which the lead changed hands three times. Wild Oats led the 88-yacht fleet out of Sydney Harbour on Monday at the start of the 67th edition of the race and held that lead through a stormy first night at sea, then through all of the next day.
Investec Loyal closed, then overtook Wild Oats on Tuesday night and led by a little more than a mile when dawn broke over a reduced fleet Wednesday.
Wild Oats XI, skippered by Mark Richards, regained the lead Wednesday morning and opened a four-mile lead by mid-afternoon. But Investec Loyal again closed, then overtook Wild Oats XI in lighter wind, leading by 7 minutes when it rounded Tasman Island, heading for the mouth of the Derwent.
Wild Oats navigator Ian Burns described the tactical contest as it unfolded.
“They’re doing a nice job down there keeping their options open, keeping as much distance between us and them as possible so that if they have an opportunity they can make the most of it,” he said. “It makes it hard to match them. It’s tough tactically, relatively easy sailing for the crew but hard tactically.”
The yachts remained in sight of each other in the final hours of the race, and were seldom separated by more than a third of a mile. 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 20 miles.
Of the 88 yachts that started the race, 76 were still racing when the leaders crossed the line; 12 were forced to withdraw with gear failures or because of injuries to crew members.
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