Shortly after crossing the finishing line off Battery Point at the end of just over two days of testing ocean racing in washing machine conditions off the NSW coast, then pockets of no breeze and fickle weather on the Tassie coast, the mighty Investec Loyal was served a notice of protest by officials from the Race Committee.
Instead of enjoying the fruits of victory – having narrowly beaten Australia’s greatest supermaxi across the line – the dismayed Loyal crew, after stowing their boat, gathered together to recollect an incident that occurred off the NSW south coast when they were chasing the line honours favourite, five times winner Wild Oats XI.
The protest alleged that Investec Loyal had received outside assistance from an ABC helicopter pilot and reporter referring to the mainsail aboard Wild Oats XI and by doing so was in breach of racing rule No.41.
It alleged that Loyal tactician and CEO of the reputable North Sails sailmaking operation, Michael Coxon, had received information from the helicopter crew that could be used to Loyal’s advantage.
Just how that was, beats me and a myriad of ocean racing supporters.
Coxon, one of Australia’s most outstanding yachtsmen with an international reputation asked a question of the ABC crew because, as a sailmaker having made a new mainsail for Wild Oats, he was concerned for his product which cost owner Bob Oatley dollars a plenty.
In doing so the Loyal campaign did not seek nor did they gain any advantage from this innocent enquiry.
This is the second time in less than 13 months the outcome of line honours in the iconic Sydney to Hobart has been questioned by the Race Committee.
Last year the Committee protested Wild Oats XI claiming they did not follow correct reporting procedures before entering Bass Strait. The protest was dismissed.
This protest came as a shock to Investec Loyal owner Anthony Bell and his crew, many of whom are renowned international, professional yachtsmen. All other competitors were for the most part unaware of the protest until they reached Hobart.
For the many thousands of spectators who lined the waterfront and the docks at the edge of Hobart city they also were bewildered by the protest and like so many across the country, including everyone from the general public to sailing aficionados the world over, a final determination would not be realised for nearly 24 hours.
What is it with the Race Committee?
Investec Loyal was the first boat home. After a hard fought contest between two highly competitive ocean racers it was the underdog that triumphed. It was a great result by a slower boat after almost six years of dominance by a highly fancied, well campaigned, best financed, giant in the business of ocean racing.
This win was probably the best thing to happen to the Sydney-Hobart Race. The general consensus was that the majority of followers and supporters of the ocean classic were becoming tired of the Wild Oats XI stranglehold on the line honours tournament.
Aussies love the underdog and this win by Investec Loyal will, I believe, stimulate a greater interest in the event in 2012.
The Sydney to Hobart yacht race is today a sporting institution and after 67 years it has become a landmark event. One that continues to attract and captivate so much public attention not only in Australia but around the world. But, if a race result continues to be stalled because of perceived rule infringements, the race organisers run the risk of everyone, competitors and the public alike turning away from sailing’s greatest showpiece. A yachting event by which all others are measured.
Line honours winner Anthony Bell had to wait 18 hours before a verdict was reached but only after he and his tactician Michael Coxon were asked to deliver their version of events that resulted in the protest.
After almost three hours of deliberation the protest was dismissed and only then was Investec Loyal officially crowned the 2011 Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race line honours winner.
Standing on the steps of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania in Sandy Bay a relieved and emotional Bell said, “Michael’s question was not to gain advantage to our boat, it was all about his business.”
Bell was happy to have the matter resolved by a five member International Jury
“A great moment was taken from my crew but I would prefer that if there had been any question mark [over the result] that it be dealt with properly,” Bell said.
Coxon was critical of the Race Committee.
“I would hope there is a lesson to be learned here. A simple phone call would have cleared it [the matter] up. My question was one of interest and of concern. Perhaps I made a mistake. Maybe I should not have spoken with the media,” he said.
Coxon also pointed out that on Boxing Day at the 0830 weather briefing, CYCA Commodore Garry Linacre urged all competitors to be open and supportive in dealing with the media.
With the decision now final, the Investec Loyal win was a popular result. The public wanted the big zebra to be first home. They wanted her to beat Wild Oats XI. She was the sentimental favourite; and on Constitution Dock the huge crowd applauded wildly when Anthony Bell surrounded by his dedicated crew of yachting legends and sporting and television stars including Kurt Fernly, Phil Waugh, Phil Kearns, Anthony Minnicello and Karl Stefanovic, hoisted the silverware high above his shoulders.
A crew dedicated to delivering victory to Bell, who was instrumental in setting up the Loyal Foundation and whose mission in 2011 was to raise over a million dollars for struggling charities so that they can continue to help and brighten the lives of so many less fortunate. Loyal’s main beneficiary this Hobart race was the Humpty Dumpty Foundation.
“Every cent in every dollar raised goes direct to charity,” Bell said.
Just how many other people would take on this challenge to support such a worthy cause? Tell me, please.
I asked Anthony Bell what is the future for Investec Loyal?
“Well it was a fitting result but for now we are all going to catch our breath. We have a forward plan and several options in the wind,” replied Bell, not giving anything away.
Earlier, Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards had said, “If they lose this protest I will not be happy accepting the win under these circumstances.”
Wild Oats owner Bob Oatley said they deserved to win.
“Yes, I am disappointed. My crew put up a great effort but as you know it is never easy when you fall into a hole. Investec Loyal sailed around them. The lead changed four times at Tasman Island. They [Loyal] sailed very well and they deserved to beat us.”
Former America’s Cup skipper and Oats crewman Iain Murray said it was just bad luck.
“We fell into two big holes. They just sailed around us.”
Sometimes it just happens … and it can happen to the best. It is the nature of the sport.
On the other hand it was a perfect race for Stephen Ainsworth and his brilliant RP 63, Loki.
Ainsworth, recently named the CYCA’s Ocean Racer of the Year (jointly with 2010 Hobart winner Geoff Boettcher) and his crew sailed a flawless course getting everything right from the start to finish. Tactically it was Ainsworth’s best performance and after 14 years Loki finally snared the big one, winning overall honours.
“It is so hard to win this race,” said the 57-year-old Ainsworth.
“We are all elated. It is a fantastic feeling. The wind Gods were on our side. We went extremely well and we never once stopped. We had very good navigation and weather skills on board.
“I’ll be back next year to defend my title and as long as I have a good boat and a good crew I’ll continue to campaign,” Ainsworth said.
Loki’s main competitor was Melbourne yachtsman Michael Hiatt with his Farr design 55, Living Doll who was beaten by just 50 minutes on corrected time by Loki.
“We had 30 hours of tedious weather with wind gusts to 40 knots. It was uncomfortable bashing into those awful seas,” said Hiatt.
“It was an honest second place. You know, the whole thing revolves around getting round Tasman Island. We had good skills on board and our tactics were determined by an excellent navigation team including Steve Cotton, Canadian Eric Holden and Noel ‘Nitro’ Drennan. The whole crew put in a huge effort.”
Third overall was Syd Fischer, now just 84-years-old and sailing his 43rd Hobart race. Australia’s greatest ocean racing sailor, Fischer is always a certainty to record a top result. Ragamuffin finished third overall and in doing so won the ORCi Division beating Victorian Chris Bull’s Jazz by just 11 minutes while another Victorian yacht Calm (Jason Van der Slot) was 40 seconds astern in third place.
This year’s race delivered many outstanding results across the fleet. Peter Millard and John Honan’s Lahana sailed a sensational effort, and in difficult conditions the 90-footer finished third over the line just six hours behind Wild Oats XI to place sixth overall.
Tony Levett won the Sydney 38 Division for a second year with TSA Management Eleni beating a remarkable effort from Jessica Watson and her young ‘all under 21 years’ crew on Ella Bache – Another Challenge, and Bruce Foye on The Goat.
Quetzalcoatl (Antony Sweetapple) took the honours in PHS Division from Andrew Wenham’s well-campaigned Volvo 60, Southern Excellence and Bruce Mackay’s Wasabi .
The 67th Hobart was a good, tough, testing and trying ocean race that produced many wonderful performances but none more than the David and Goliath struggle between two Australian supermaxis finishing with what can be best described as an extremely popular win.
And what about the Today Show’s, Karl Stefanovic! Never sailed, let alone done a Hobart … and wins a line honours first time out. He’ll have to go down the line one more time before he can really claim to have done the great Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race – don’t you think?
Finally, what a proud achievement for Sydney sailing identity Sean Langman who, so used to being in the lead group of yachts, with his very fast downwind flyers, this year sailed his 22nd Hobart with his 18-year-old son Peter and his daughter Nicole aboard, Maluka of Kermandie, a fully restored 80-year-old Huon pine gaff-rigged classic cutter.
Young Pete Langman skippered the family pride across the line just after 1700 hours on New Year’s Eve completing his first Sydney to Hobart in 5 days 3 hours and 48 minutes to finish last boat home. A long time at sea but a great effort nevertheless.