Wild Oats stripped of Sydney-Hobart win after Comanche protest

SYDNEY – LDV Comanche was named the line honours winner of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race in dramatic circumstances Thursday when Wild Oats XI was stripped of the title over a near-collision.

Wild Oats crossed the line in record time late Wednesday, but an international jury handed the crew a one-hour penalty after Comanche protested over an incident between the 100-footers early in the race. It is just the third time the result of the annual race, which has been held since 1945, was decided by a protest, and the first since 1990.

Comanche owner and skipper Jim Cooney said the complaint was about a near-miss involving his super-yacht and Wild Oats, which appeared to tack too late when exiting Sydney Heads on Tuesday. An international jury convened on Thursday heard evidence from both crews before finding in favour of Comanche, saying Wild Oats had “failed to keep clear (of Comanche) while tacking”.

The jury’s chairman John Rountree said Wild Oats also did not comply with the rules requiring the super-yacht to make a two-turn penalty after breaking the initial rule. “Wild Oats XI is… penalised a time penalty of one hour to be added to her elapsed time,” he told reporters in Hobart. Comanche finished 26min and 34sec behind Wild Oats’ 1 day, 8hrs, 48min and 50sec, enough to seal victory after the one-hour penalty was imposed. Comanche’s time of 1 day, 9hrs, 15min, 24sec now stands as the new race record, breaking the previous time set last year by several hours.

Cooney said the jury’s decision was “an enormous relief… to feel that we did deserve to win”. “I didn’t expect to protest in order to win the race,” he said, adding that the “rules are there to protect people’s lives… and if we can’t rely on that it’s a difficulty in the sport”. Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards said his crew was “very disappointed” but that they would “take it on the chin”. The protest denied Wild Oats its ninth line honours victory in the 628-nautical mile (1,163-kilometre) bluewater classic. Richards denied the situation had been dangerous, but added that he could “see the jury’s point of view”. “The whole situation was under control. It was just one of those tricky situations in a yacht race and that’s what happens, and we all paid the price.”

The decision is a blow to Wild Oats’ owners, the Oatley family, after the super-yacht was forced to retire from the last two races. “We’d just like to congratulate Jim Cooney and his crew for their success, and move forward,” owner Sandy Oatley said. This is the second time in three years that Comanche has won line honours, although the 2015 triumph was under the ownership of Netscape founder Jim Clark and wife Kristy Hinze. Cooney purchased the supermaxi from American Clark just two weeks ago, and had handled Comanche only a small number of times before the start of this year’s race on Boxing Day.

On board with the Sydneysider was his daughter Julia and son James. Attention now turns to the Tattersall Cup awarded to the overall winner, with Matt Allen’s new TP52 Ichi Ban among the favourites. Smaller boats Patrice (Ker 46), Concubine (Mills 45) and Chutzpah (Caprice 40) were also in the running.

The handicap honour goes for the vessel that performs best according to size, giving smaller boats a chance to prove their worth in what is regarded as one of the world’s toughest yacht races. “This is the best Hobart race I have ever done… I’ve never seen conditions like it,” owner-skipper Allen said, after Ichi Ban finished early on Thursday. “I think the breeze is lightening off though, and they (the other Tattersall Cup challengers) won’t come home as fast as we did.”

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