Will she stay or will she go now?
Team Tyco - eager to make up points after rudder damage on leg two
No one it seems has explained the old adage, 'when in a hole, stop digging', to the Volvo Ocean Race Jury. Since their first ruling on the illegal weed-cutter and subsequent bizarre financial penalty against illbruck, they have been fighting a rearguard action to establish their credibility.
Whoever wrote and checked the sailing instructions must also shoulder a fair share of the blame for the latest difficulties, with the will she - won't she battle to see if Tyco is disqualified from the third leg of the race moving on to round two.
The latest problems all started when Tyco failed to make a radio report (mandatory under Sydney-Hobart race rules) as she set out across Bass Straight on her way to Auckland. Mindful of the harsh verdict of the Coroner's Report on the 1999 Hobart race disaster, the Sydney-Hobart Race Committee had no hesitation in disqualifying Tyco from their race. A subsequent request for redress from Tyco to the Sydney-Hobart Jury was equally swiftly rejected. While this attempt by Tyco to get reinstated was only to be expected, it was seen in a bad light by many Australian competitors, some of whom had lost friends in the 1999 event and take the current safety regulations for the race very seriously indeed.
On arrival in Auckland both News Corp and SEB lodged Requests for Redress claiming that Tyco finished leg three and was awarded points to which she was not entitled. Quite why neither News Corp or SEB did not simply protest Tyco for failing to comply with the rules of the Hobart Race is not clear. More on this later.
In what initially seemed like a simple ruling, the Request for Redress was denied with the Jury finding that the Race Committee did not make an improper action or omission in not recording Tyco as 'DNF' in Leg 3. The facts found by the jury were that, " Tyco had been scored DNF (did not finish) in the Sydney-Hobart race because she failed to report as required by the Sydney-Hobart Sailing Instructions." The Volvo Ocean Race Leg 3 Sailing Instructions clearly state that 'Scoring from the SHYR will not affect the results of Leg 3 in any way'. On the face of it Tyco was fully in the clear.
Case closed? If you were Kevin Shoebridge you might like to think so. But in another bizarre turn, the Jury then threw a lifeline to News Corp and SEB, pointing out that when Tyco failed to comply with the communication requirement of the Sydney-Hobart race, they had contravened part of the Volvo Ocean Race Leg 3 Sailing Instructions (SH SI 43.2), which require Volvo Ocean Race boats to comply with the communication requirements of the Sydney-Hobart race. The jury also pointed out either another Volvo boat, or the Volvo Ocean Race committee, could protest Tyco for breaking SH SI 43.2, but that there was no obligation to do so.
Spurred on by the Jury, News Corp have now protested Tyco for failing to comply with the Sydney Hobart Sailing Instructions and the consequent alleged breach of the Volvo Ocean Race rules. Speaking after the dismissal of his initial request for redress, News Corp skipper, Ross Field complained, "Basically the Volvo Ocean Race attempts to be the safest sailing race. However this result says that they are willing to ignore Tyco's failure to adhere to the Sydney-Hobart safety rules." Pointing out that he clearly means business, Field went on to say, "The rules for this race certainly need to be clarified, this isn't the end of the matter."
In examining News Corp's protest, the Jury will first have to establish its validity. There is of course the small matter of the protest time limit. Coming some days after the finish of leg three, the protest is well beyond the normal 24 hour limit for boat-on-boat protests. Field will no doubt argue that he lodged his protest within 24 hours of the facts becoming known to him. But is this not something of a hollow argument given that he could have read the Sailing Instructions any time before, during or after leg three? Based on previous precedent in this race, the real question is whether the Jury, perhaps influenced by the Race Committee, want to hear the protest or not.
It is worth remembering that the Racing Rules of sailing (61.3) state "The protest committee shall [my italics] extend the time limit when there is a good reason to do so." If a proven breach of safety regulations (established by the Sydney-Hobart Jury) is not good enough reason to extend the time limit, one is hard pressed to understand what is.
A precedent was however set in Sydney. Grant Dalton's request for redress following the traffic separation scheme infringments by several boats off Cape Town at the start of leg two , was summarily thrown out.because it had been submitted just 25 minutes outside the time limit. On the other hand, by pointing out the possibility of a protest by another boat and making an interpretation of the relevant rules even before a potential hearing, the jury do seem to have indicated that they are keen to examine the matter again.
Quite what the outcome will be is anybody's guess. $1000 off the Team Tyco budget perhaps?
The new protest is scheduled to be heard at 10am (local time) on Wednesday the 9th January at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.