HOBART, TASMANIA, AUS (#1159) – At 2230 AEDT Friday night, some 14 hours after WILD OATS XI ("WOXI") was first to cross the finish line in the 74th running of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Racing, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia issued this media statement:
The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), the organising authority for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, has been advised that Race Committee has advised that they have lodged a protest against Wild Oats XI.The Race Committee received a report from the owner of Black Jack advising that Wild Oats XI’s AIS had not transmitted throughout the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2018.On investigation, and based on its own evidence, the Race Committee considers there may have been a breach of S.I. 11.4 in respect of Special Regulation 4.09 (a).The CYCA Commodore, Paul Billingham explained: “The Race Committee is independent of the organising authority of the race to ensure objectivity is maintained and seen to be maintained in circumstances such as this.”The protest will be heard by the International Jury, chaired by Russell Green (NZL) in the Jury Room at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania on Saturday 29 December at 1300 hrs.
I guess you can say that we are advising our Dear Readers that the media were advised that the CYCA has been advised that the Race Committee has been advised by Peter Harburg, owner of the yacht BLACK JACK, that he had been advised by his navigator that WOXI's AIS did not transmit throughout the race as required by the Sailing Instructions.
"AIS" is short for Automatic Information System, a maritime transponder that provides a ship's location, course (heading), and speed to other ships locally with AIS receivers, and beyond via websites that display AIS data captured by satellite; for example, the public, popular and free (largely) MarineTraffic website.
Read more on AIS via Wikipedia here.
Before your Ed. turned in Thursday night Pacific time, we reported on our Sailing Illustrated Facebook page that this was a developing story.
The relevant Sailing Instruction reads, "An AIS Transponder shall be carried and be switched on, such that it is receiving and transmitting."
As we posted last night, WOXI skipper Mark Richards was reported by the Australian Broadcast Corp (ABC) to have said post-race that, "[AIS being switched on] is not a mandatory thing … we were in sight of each other the whole race, it was that close," Richards said, describing the accusation as a "storm in a teacup".
It's more than a bit ironic that Mr Richards was similarly dismissive after last year's race when he learned that COMANCHE had filed a protest against WOXI for the now infamous port-starboard incident shortly after the start. WOXI, having finished first, was subsequently penalized by the jury by the addition of one hour to her finish time, dropping WOXI from first to second in "line honours" – the finishing order before handicaps are applied – behind COMANCHE.
As we also reported, BLACK JACK's owner said dockside Friday afternoon that they did not intend to protest, but instead would rely on the Race Committee to investigate and protest if and as they deemed appropriate. This the RC has now done, and are apparently satisfied "based on its own evidence" that there may have been a breach.
BLACK JACK is owned by Peter Harburg (AUS), skippered by our old friend Mark "Squark" Bradford (AUS). A penalty of only 30 minutes to WOXI's elapsed time would give BLACK JACK line honours for the 2018 RSHYR.
Your Ed. heard last night from a highly credible source close to WOXI that, "Juan Villa (ESP) is responsible for the electronics on the boat as well as navigation. Juan confirmed that AIS was on for the whole race and was confirmed by way of a 3rd party check prior to racing."
So we would expect WOXI to so testify at today's hearing, while the race committee's protest will offer evidence that WOXI's AIS was turned on and off and back on during the race – allegedly so that other yachts could not see their position, at least during the darkness of night.
The RSHYR race tracker that we enjoy watching, whether on the RSHYR website or via the widely-preferred tracker offered up by Windy.com is a separate system that is sometimes a bit sticky and sporadically, albeit regularly, updated.
RSHYR Jury chair Russell Green (NZL) is another longtime friend and former AC colleague who is also the legal/rules advisor for Emirates Team New Zealand. Having served with Mr Green on any number Olympic and World Championship juries, your Ed. can attest that he is an excellent yacht racing judge. Russell is on the hot seat along with the other four members of his jury: Peter Scheuerl IJ (GER), Jamie Sutherland IJ (NZL), Rosemary Collins IJ (AUS), David Tillett NJ (AUS).
The jury's options range from dismissing the protest (no penalty), to upholding the protest with a penalty ranging from a slap on the wrist (e.g., public apology) to disqualification and more. Some of our Dear Readers have already argued that with BLACK JACK not being willing to protest, they (and the RC) should STFU – "Shut the F... Up". Others say, "The rules are the rules, turning off the AIS is clear evidence of cheating, so WOXI should be disqualified and a Rule 69 (gross misconduct) action taken against them, and additional penalties (e.g., banned from the sport).
At this writing there is no way to know if the RC evidence is clear and convincing. However, we suspect that it is, and that they have already had an informal séance with the jury. Otherwise, they would not have lodged the protest last night.
What do you think? We will discuss all this at length on today's TFE LIVE, as always (Tuesdays and Fridays) at 1300 Pacific / 2100 UTC / 0800+1 AEDT on our Sailing Illustrated Facebook page. Join us then for what promises to be a lively discussion. We'll take a vote of our viewers as to whether you think the RC has credible evidence, and, if so, what penalty you think they should apply if any.
A penalty of even 30 minutes added to her elapsed time would move WOXI from first to third (to finish); an hour, from first to fourth; a day, from first to below 10th.
We covered yesterday's finish of the top three yachts via a special TFE LIVE. Watch a replay here.