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Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race – the better mousetrap

by John Curnow on 2 Jan 2013
Grant Wharington’s (Maxi Wild Thing) - Rolex Sydney Hobart 2011 © Rolex/Daniel Forster http://www.regattanews.com
Rolex Sydney Hobart 2012 - The grand classic ocean race is remembered for many things from records and personal achievements, to tribulations and unfortunately, disasters too. 2012 will be no different in that department.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart 2012 Race Committee's decision to not allow Grant Wharington's Wild Thing from racing made headline news world-wide.


However, rising out of the turmoil with a plan and path forward is the Supermaxi, Wild Thing and her enigmatic Skipper, Grant Wharington.

More than enough material has been published on the Boxing Day dilemma and the Wild Thing camp’s devastation at being scratched, so it was terrific to see Wharington on a path forward today.

He told Sail-World, ‘We have engaged Fred Barrett to do a bumper to bumper study to ensure everything is 100%, for the record and also provide us with optimisation options for moving forward. In this way, we’ll be able to ensure we can race whenever we want and be competitive, which is what we have always strived for and shown in the past.’

‘Wild Thing is currently at Birkenhead Point so that we can do the Sydney Harbour Regatta on March 9 and 10, then the Property Industry Foundation Regatta on March 15. From there we’ll go back up to Brisbane and very much get set for Brisbane to Gladstone at the end of March.’

Respected and experienced Naval Architect, Fred Barrett said, ‘We are going to start from the ground up for 2013 with the full review. In terms of options, it will be up to Wild Thing Yachting to determine how much they want to go for, but of course, it is very exciting, as we get to look and work with the boat holistically. It’s a review of the whole thing for Wild Thing, if you will.’

‘Certainly the aim is to look to the future to get this yacht out racing and realise its full potential. Ultimately, what we are talking about is a full audit to ensure all of the required documents are not only covered off, but also ticked off by any relevant party. There will be no issues left to uncover later and no areas left open to scrutiny that can hurt the project.’

Barrett then added, ‘Quite possibly we will need to do some core samples and other testing to completely ensure full compliance, which is certainly part of starting afresh and demonstrating that Wild Thing meets the current rules. From there, we can sort out any issues that may arise.’

‘We need to allow these machines (Supermaxis) to use technology to not only advance the sport, but keep it exciting and interesting, much the same as F1 plays a significant role in the development of the motor car. Naturally, this is all about ensuring reliability and validity of the craft.’

So it is great to see such motivation and dedication being applied to a solid and clear solution, but what of the underlying issues to the race itself?

In this scribe’s first job, the command ‘Avoid Verbal Orders’ was absolutely and specifically drummed in to me. It even appeared on the top of the inter-departmental order pad, where it was clearly aiming to remind everyone of how things can go awry when you just ask for something to be done.

Dockside, the question is being asked – Is there a theme that has appeared in the last three races, especially in terms of the Race Committee and the Supermaxis. Namely, is there an issue with communication?

It is a matter of record that in 2010 Wild Oats’ XI declaration at Green Cape was received, taped and passed on from Hobart Race Control. Yet apparently unaware of this the Race Committee protested Wild Oats XI for not making a declaration. The International Jury dismissed the protest.

In 2011, the Line Honours winner Loyal was sensationally protested by the Race Committee which an anxious sailmaker, asked the ABC chopper crew at then end of his interview with them, whether one of his clients was still carrying the expensive mainsail he had built for her. That Race Committee protest was also dismissed. The consenus dockside was that the information received was no more advantageous than one could determine from a quick glance of the tracker on the Internet and that Race Committee could have asked for an explanation before pulling the Protest trigger.

In 2012, the conflicting recollections of the parties involved does suggest that more written communications between the Race Committee and Wharington could have made a significant difference. At the very least it would have allowed for a trail that could be better and more comprehensively audited.


A key question in the future for any maxi boat owner is, what happens if a designer is no longer able to provide the appropriate documentations for a Race Committee.

The American Bureau of Shipping Guidelines for Building and Classing Offshore Racing Yachts, 1994, are just that. Guides. They are often substantiated by masses of case law that clarifies certain aspects of design. They are not a set of instructions, per se, on how to design and build something, as you would get with say a large Meccano set.

Additionally, it needs to be noted that the ABS was effectively rendered obsolete in 1989 and nothing has since arrived to replace it. ISO Cat A is a requirement for vessels under 24m now, but the rest is of interest to us, in that where would one go to seek clarification?

Sadly yacht designers, like all humans, aren’t immune to death, as the late Joe Adams would remind us.

Without a stringent set of procedures, an owner could potentially find themselves not able to race their yacht if it has been modified, as it would seem has happened in this case.

Quite possibly, Yachting Australia need to now be involved in setting up the exact words and procedures that are acceptable if a designer is retired and hence not insured, has a falling out with the owner/builder or has passed away, so that consultant naval architects can be able to use them to review and make an appropriate statement on a vessel.

Finally then, one of the most intriguing and puzzling aspects of the Wild Thing matter is the notion of the Race Committee allegedly inviting Wild Thing to go to Hobart, cruising in company with an operational tracker and participating in the skeds, as well.

Note here that Wild Thing was told it not allowed to start at the same time as the others and excluded from being in the preparatory area until the fleet had left the harbour, so would always be playing catch up, yet obviously would have sailed through all but the top three boats.

Is this a matter of duty of care? If the Race Committee had deemed the vessel unsafe for racing, how was it then appropriate to invite it to cover the same course, on the same patch of ocean, at virtually the same time?

Is this what it did? We have been unable to find any evidence of this offer in writing. Wharington said on Boxing Day morning at his Press Conference it was so made and there has been no denial from the Race organisers at the time of writing.

Certainly all ocean racing event organisers need to understand the appropriate course of action in such circumstances. And it’s clear that there is a significant division of opinion already.

When it is all said and done, the entire situation does seem to raise issues that need to be addressed, in spite of suggestions this subject is closed.

We wonder if the Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2013 will be the one in which the Race Committee is not part of the night’s television news? Not just within Australia, but also worldwide.

The weather gods intervened to make the 2012 race all about the big boat.s The domination of the overall handicap results certainly robbed the race of much of its drama, but there were some fascinating elements regardless.

The race was a very tough one for most of the fleet. The IRC division 2 win by Warwick Sherman and his Occasional Course Language Too was a highlight for sure.



Finally congratulations and Commiserations to everyone involved with the 2012 Race.

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In 2013 we will be very pleased if the pre-race conversations are about what a wonderful weather forecast it is for Sean Langman's 30 feet (9 metre) Maluka of Kermandie.

Happy New Year to you all!!

[Sorry, this content could not be displayed]
The weather gods intervened to make the 2012 race all about the big boats.That certainly robbed the race of much of its drama, but there were some fascinating elements regardless. The IRC division 2 win by Warwick Sherman and his Occassional Course Language Too was a highlight for sure.

Finally congratulations and Commiserations to everyone involved with the 2012 Race.

In 2013 we will be very pleased if the pre-race conversations are about what a wonderful weather forecast it is for Sean Langman's 30 feet (9.1 metre) Maluka of Kermandie.

Happy New Year to you all!!

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