Ericsson's request for redress over Melbourne in-port race start invalidated over technicality

Friday February 10th 2006, Author: Bernard Schopfer, Location: Australasia
The Ericsson Racing Team’s request for redress has been today invalidated by the International Jury of the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) for having failed on two technicalities. As a result the jury did not have to resolve the question of whether Ericsson was indeed OCS at the start of Saturday's Melbourne in-port race, because it found that the team’s request was invalid.

At the start of the in-port race Ericsson was recalled by the Race Committee for being OCS and had to sail back to the starting line in order to re-cross it. The Ericsson Racing Team found out later on that there had been confusion on the Race Committee boat. This they felt had resulted in Ericsson being erroneously recalled. The return to the start clearly affected Ericsson’s finishing position in this race; hence the team’s decision to submit a claim for redress to the international Jury.

Today, Friday 10 February, the VOR's International Jury declared the team’s claim invalid as in the Racing Rules of Sailing there is a new 'experimental appendix' for the Volvo Ocean Race, aimed at resolving disputes and allowing misdemeanours to be exonerated on the water:

Appendix Q - Umpired Fleet Racing Rules 5.1 states:
'A boat intending to request redress because of circumstances that arise before she finishes or retires shall clearly display a red flag as soon as possible after she becomes aware of those circumstances, but not later than two minutes after finishing or retiring.
She shall keep the flag displayed until she has informed the umpires after finishing or retiring.'

The international jury, chaired by New Zealander Jack Lloyd, today found that Ericsson did not display a red flag as required by Appendix Q 5.1and waited too long - 2200 Sunday local time 30 hours instead of two minutes - to claim redress from the Race Committee. The Jury has therefore not opened the case, and has not looked at the evidence provided by the team.

Although skipper Neal McDonald, who presented Ericsson’s case to the jury, never got past first base, he was able to allege that starter Ross Wilson had confused Ericsson with Brasil 1. “It was a clear case of mistaken identity,” McDonald said. “We were amazed to be called (for being) over the line.”

He said that in the moments leading to the start ( Ericsson was between ABN AMRO Two, which was also recalled to the start, and Brasil 1 towards the pin end of the line) they had checked their transits, GPS and other instruments and were confident they were not premature. He conceded it was a mistake not to have flown a red protest flag on the backstay.

“In retrospect, we should have,” he said.

“Are you aware of the requirement?” asked Australian juror David Tillett, who is also chairman of the ISAF rules committee.

“Yes,” answered McDonald.

On returning to the dock after the In Port Race in which Ericsson finished fourth behind ABN AMRO One, Pirates of the Caribbean and movistar, McDonald said “we went about gathering information”. But he said that it was not until 2000 on Sunday that he first saw video footage taken from the committee start boat the previous afternoon. “That gave us more than adequate reason to seek redress,” he said.

However, rules adviser to the VOR Richard Slater told the jury that the footage from the committee boat was available on Saturday night when it was transmitted to TV networks. It was also made available to all the teams as a package at 1500 on Sunday.
Ericsson had first requested to see the footage in an email sent to race director Andy Hindley at 1200 on Sunday. McDonald said he was engaged with sponsors throughout Sunday and did not have an opportunity to view the footage until 2000.

After less than an hour, the jury retired to consider the validity question. They deliberated for 20 minutes and Mr Lloyd announced that Ericsson’s request invalid.

However, he told McDonald that the race committee had the discretion to initiate its own action if there was any doubt in the mind of the starter Ross Wilson about Ericsson (and not Brasil) being an early starter.

“I don’t believe I made a mistake at all,” Wilson said. ”It is quite clear, absolutely clear in my mind and on my audio tape that there were two boats over - ABN AMRO and Ericsson. Brasil 1 was dead in the water and Ericsson was out in front underneath Brasil.”

However later Ericsson Racing Team explained its point of view: "During the race, the team had no objective reasons to put the Race Committee’s decisions in doubt. Later on, once the in-port race was finished, the team obtained footage from the start which was filmed onboard the Race Committee boat. This footage includes the audio dialogue between the Race Officer and a Volvo Ocean Race official (see below) at the time of the start. It clearly shows that the person who called the line and was standing at the mast, only called Brasil 1 (and did not mention Ericsson). It is the Race Officer, who was (wrongly) standing in front of the mast, who called ABN AMRO Two and Ericsson.

"In order to use this footage as evidence in its request for redress, the team had to officially obtain permission from the Race Committee. However, and despite numerous attempts, it was not possible to reach the Race Committee and get the necessary approval until Sunday afternoon. The team issued a request for redress on Sunday at 8.00pm, after having acquired the conviction that there was solid ground for a request for redress."

“We are clearly disappointed by the outcome of the hearing," commented Neal McDonald, Ericsson Racing Team Skipper: "It is true that we didn’t hoist our red flag. But we had no objective reason to do so. It is only after the end of the race that we found out that there was confusion on the Race Committee boat and that we thought it was legitimate to request a redress. The footage is self-explanatory, so it is sad that the Jury hasn’t looked at it although we respect their decision.”

Transcript of the footage filmed on the Race Committee Boat at the moment of the start:

Peter Moor: “I called Brazil. You didn’t call Brasil?”

Race Officer: “Um”

Peter Moor: “You did not call Brazil?”

Race Office: “No”

Peter Moor (presumably over the radio): “JT…JT…..apparently there was only one boat called over”

Race Officer: “Two boats”

Peter Moor: “Two boats who were they?...I called Brazil”

Peter Moor (over the radio): “I called Brasil."

Ericsson Racing Team earlier held a press reception where they showed the video footage depicting the above.

To see some fairly poor video of the start (from forward of the pin), unfortunately missing the moment Ericsson crossed (another boat went in front of us) click here .

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