The grueling Rolex Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race ended in dramatic fashion when the initial winner was stripped of victory after a protest launched by a rival.
Wild Oats XI was initially crowned the line honors winner, with a record-beating time and a lead of 26 minutes and 34 seconds at the finish on Wednesday evening.
But after a hearing lasting more than three hours, an international jury ruled on Thursday that the crew had failed to keep clear of a challenger, LDV Comanche, when the two super-maxis were still within Sydney Harbor at the start of the race on December 26.
A penalty hour was added to Wild Oats XI’s official time, handing victory to LDV Comanche.
Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards was stoic after the announcement, accepting the jury’s decision. It would have been the ninth time that Wild Oats XI had won line honors — the yachting term given to the vessel that crosses the finish line in a race first.
“We are very disappointed but I can see the jury’s point of view… Everyone’s a genius in hindsight. We made our decisions and have to live with them today. We’ll get back up on the horse,” he said, according to the race’s official Twitter feed.
Wild Oats XI was initially declared the winner on Wednesday after finishing the grueling 628-nautical mile dash from Sydney to Tasmania in a record time of one day, eight hours, 48 minutes and 50 seconds, taking four hours off Perpetual Loyal’s time last year.
But the owner of of second-placed Comanche, Jim Cooney, immediately lodged a protest, based on a maneuver carried out in the early part of the race as the crew steered through Sydney Heads.
The jury ruled in favor of Comanche, saying that Wild Oats XI had failed to keep clear of its rival when the two vessels were on a collision course. It failed to undertake a two-turn penalty, which would have absolved it of any further action.
After he was handed victory, Cooney said, “It’s a surprise, a very pleasant surprise to be standing here.”
The previous day he described the move that led to the official protest.
“We were the right-of-way boat: they were the give-way boat. 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. 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.”
Black Jack crossed the line in third and was also an hour inside the 2016 finish time record.
Before the start of the 73rd edition of the classic “bluewater” race, the 100ft super maxi Wild Oats XI — owned by Sandy Oatley, son of the late businessman and wine maker Bob Oatley — was struck by lightning in Sydney, damaging a number of onboard navigational computers.
The bolt from an electrical storm hit the 45-meter high carbon mast of the eight-time line honors winner, which was ashore in a cradle at Woolwich dock undergoing pre-race checks.
Race favorite Comanche was berthed next to Wild Oats but escaped any damage.
Two years ago Wild Oats shredded its mainsail in fierce winds while sailing down Australia’s east coast in the Sydney-Hobart.
Last year it suffered damage to the hydraulics used to operate the canting keel and had to retire from the race.