HOBART - Wild Oats XI is officially the line honours winner of the Sydney to Hobart race after an international jury dismissed a protest yesterday which threatened the yacht's fifth win in six years.
The 30.4m super maxi crossed the finish line off Hobart's Constitution Dock late on Tuesday but its win was jeopardised when the race committee protested, saying the yacht did not have an operational HF radio as it entered Bass Strait, which separates the island state of Tasmania from the Australian mainland.
A five-man international jury meeting in Hobart yesterday dismissed the protest and confirmed Wild Oats as line honours winner.
"You can never be too confident in a protest, but the race committee has done a great job," skipper Mark Richards said after the decision.
"The jury heard the story and got all their facts right and I believe they have come up with the right decision."
The race committee had protested against both Wild Oats and the English yacht RAN, claiming neither had functioning HF radios as they passed Green Cape near the southeastern tip of the Australian mainland.
The Cape marks a position at which yachts must compulsorily report their position to race organisers before entering Bass Strait.
The rule requiring mandatory reporting was introduced after the disastrous 1998 Sydney to Hobart race in which six sailors drowned when the race fleet was swept by a huge storm.
Race committee chairman Tim Cox said both Wild Oats and RAN had failed to comply with sailing instruction 44.1(A), which demanded HF radio reporting at Green Cape.
"Both yachts reported their position throughout and since passing the Cape by telephone," he said.
"From my point of view, passing Green Cape is one of the fundamental safety rules of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. It's one of the breaches which I personally consider to be one of the more serious ones."
Cox said he told Wild Oats navigator Adrienne Cahalan not to try to cross Bass Strait without an HF radio.
"I spoke to Wild Oats prior to them getting to Green Cape and they advised that their HF radio did not work," he said. "I advised her that she could not cross Bass Strait."
Richards had insisted late on Tuesday that his crew had complied with all sailing instructions.
"We've got some of the most accredited yachtsmen and women on the planet on board this boat," he said. "We're very confident. We've done everything by the book. There's no way, as the skipper of Wild Oats and as the skipper representing Bob Oatley, that I would've left Green Cape without knowing that we were 100 per cent complying with the rules."
Wild Oats' owner Bob Oatley also said the committee had been mistaken.
"It was a mistake and they'll apologise I'm sure," he said. "We've won the race and we'll win the protest."
Sean Langman, skipper of second-placed Investec Loyal, which crossed the finish line almost 3 hours after Wild Oats and stood to inherit line honours if its rival was disqualified, said he was not concerned with the outcome of the protest.
"Our position is that we congratulate Wild Oats. They sailed a fine race," he said. "The rest of it is really up to the committee."
New South Wales yacht Lahana finished third and Ichi Ban fourth.
Gale-force southwesterlies which batted the fleet on Sunday night and Monday morning, forcing the withdrawal of 16 yachts, ensured Wild Oats' own race record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes, set in 2005, was never under threat.
Victoire continued yesterday to lead the race for handicap honours.