Investec Loyal's fantastic, but disputed 3 minutes 8 second win
The closest finish in the last 29 years of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race took place this evening when Anthony Bell’s maxi Investec Loyal fended off Bob Oatley’s perennial line honours victor Wild Oats XI to win by just 3 minutes and 8 seconds, after 2 days 6 hours 14 minutes and 8 seconds of racing on this classic 628 mile course.
Unfortunately, at present Investec Loyal’s line honours victory remains provisional. Shortly before the two boats reached Hobart, it was announced that the Race Committee is protesting Anthony Bell’s maxi over a infringement of Racing Rule of Sailing 41 ‘Outside Help’. This followed the audio recording of a conversation that took place at 0630 local time on 27th December between the pilot of an ABC TV station helicopter and Investec Loyal tactician Mike Coxon seeking information on the sail plan in use on Wild Oats XI - in particular whether she was flying a trisail. “This is assessed to breach Rule 41 by soliciting help from an outside source,” explained Garry Linacre, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, organiser of the Rolex Sydney Hobart.
The case is to be heard by the race’s international jury at 1000 local time tomorrow, 29 December.
Having only heard about the protest after they finished, Investec Loyal hung around off the dock for longer than usual, but once they had tied up owner and skipper Anthony Bell gave their side of what happened: “We are pretty comfortable. We have read the basis by which the process was made. In short this was what happened:
During the trip ABC contacted the boat and they asked for an interview with myself, but I was steering at the time, so I couldn’t do that interview. From there we moved to a position where they said ‘is anyone else available?’ Michael Coxon was sitting next to Stan Honey the navigator and he did attend the interview. During the course of the interview they asked the usual things – and this is on Michael’s recollection of it – and he asked the question that he thought that Wild Oats may have had an issue with their mainsail. The reason he asked the question is that he is CEO of North Sails who provided the mainsail to them and he was concerned, as if there had been a breakage that might have had an effect on his reputation as a sail provider. And the news came back was that it was okay and he said that was great news.
“There are two things that I would like to make clear – it was ABC who asked the interview of us (and not the other way around) and it was also requested on VHF Ch72, which the whole world could hear. It was a question by Michael saying ‘are they alright, and I hope they haven’t broken their mainsail, these things cost Aus$ 250,000...’ and of course he was concerned. And then we got on with the race. But we respect there are rules in yachting and we will be there at 1000 and we are confident the outcome will confirm our race.”
Bell admitted that hearing the news just moments after their victory had been a blow. “To achieve an outcome in what we think is the greatest race in yachting in the world, then to get a letter stating that your win won’t be confirmed until 1000 tomorrow when you attend a protest commitment. That is anti-climactic.”
The conversation can be heard here
Regardless of the protest, the competition for line honours in this race was one of the closest in its 67 year history with the two Australian maxis gunning for each right from the outset in Sydney Harbour on Monday afternoon. Wild Oats XI led until 20:00 local time (0900 UTC) on Tuesday when they were becalmed.
“They [Investec Loyal’s crew] were keeping track of how we were doing and the moment we stopped under a cloud with no wind under it, they basically sailed right around the outside of this large hole we were stuck in and came back above us. It was good work on their part,” described Wild Oats XI’s co-navigator, Ian Burns.
Fortunately for Wild Oats XI the wind filled in soon after and they were able to resume the fight and, from this point on, the event became truly a gloves-off affair between the two 100 footers.
Finally this morning at 0730 local time, Wild Oats XI regained the lead. With rarely more than two miles separating the two boats, it wasn’t until Wild Oats XI was becalmed again just short of Tasman Island and the entrance to Storm Bay, that Investec Loyal managed once more to skirt around the wind hole. This time they took up residence directly ahead of their opponent and from that point, despite the best efforts of the Wild Oats XI crew led by Mark Richards, Investec Loyal successfully covered providing no passing lanes.
Much to the delight of spectators lining Hobart’s Constitution Dock, the two ocean racing giants came into sight up the Derwent River, but it was Investec Loyal and her crew, including sports stars, such as Australian rugby union internationals Phil Kearns and Phil Waugh, which was first home. They arrived at 19:14:18 local time, their elapsed time for the course being 2 days 6 hours 14 minutes and 18 seconds.
The 3 minutes 8 seconds margin was the fourth closest in the history of the race, the tightest being Condor of Bermuda’s 7 second win over Apollo in 1982.
“It was one of the great experiences in my life,” said Anthony Bell. “The whole thing from the very start, right through to the finish line was exhilarating. It was a really tough fought out race, but the crew believed in the boat and the cause right from the start and we are so happy to have got past the finish line first."
Michael Coxon, tactician on Investec Loyal shared his thoughts on their win: “It has very competent professional crew and a great owner who does it all for the right reasons. It is a like a fairy tale – a boat that supports charity. This boat raised Aus$ 1 million this year for charity. That is the way it should happen. I am very happy for Anthony Bell. We sail with people who have never gone sailing before and they did a really good job.”
On this occasion Bell’s Loyal Foundation was raising money for the Humpty Dumpty Foundation, which purchases vital medical equipment for 178 children’s hospitals around Australia and East Timor.
In what was principally a tactical victory for the older Investec Loyal, Coxon paid tribute to their American navigator. “The difference is a gentleman called Stan Honey,” he said. “He is an absolute legend - just amazing. His knowledge of weather and weather routing and the information he provides to me...at the end of the day he is just so good.”
On board second placed Wild Oats XI, skipper Mark Richards was categorical about the outcome, despite the protest. “Those guys won on the water and we came second. That’s all there is to it. They did a great job those guys and they deserve the win.”
Richards added that he thought it had been a fantastic race. “We had to work our butts off until the end and we came in second. That’s the way it is. They sailed very well. We were very unlucky in a few situations, but those guys did a great job and when it came to the crunch. Their boat was little bit quicker than us downwind in the lighter air and they just managed to keep their nose in front and got to the line first.”
The next two boats expected to arrive in Hobart at around 01:00 tomorrow morning are Peter Millard and John Honan’s maxi Lahana and Stephen Ainsworth’s Reichel Pugh 63, Loki.
The race for the Tattersall’s Cup, for handicap honours under IRC, remains wide open with Michael Hiatt’s Farr 55 Living Doll ahead earlier this evening, but with Australian sailing legend, 84 year-old Syd Fischer and his modified TP52 Ragamuffin having taken the lead under IRC at the time of writing.