Investec Loyal, the Greg Elliott designed supermaxi has been first to finish the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, beating the race favorite, Wild Oats XI by less than a mile.
The yachts finished in the Derwent in a fading breeze requiring Investec Loyal to engage in a gybing duel to stay between Wild Oats and the finish line.
The official margin was 2m 10 secs, both boats finished well outside the race record.
After she finished Investec Loyal was advised that she was being protested by the Race Committee for receiving Outside Assistance. Details of the case were made public by Garry Linacre, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, at an impromptu media conference in Hobart.
The incident relates to an alleged casual conversation from a crew member to a helicopter as to the sails being carried by Wild Oats over 36 hours earlier at 6.30am on Tuesday, 30 nautical miles south of Merimbula on the NSW south coast.
The description of the incident in the protest lodged by Race Committee Chairman, Tim Cox reads: 'Audio recording of conversation between ABC helicopter and Investec Loyal. Crewman from Investec Loyal seeking information from the helicopter of the sailplan in use on Wild Oats XI, In particular information as to whether Wild oats XI was flying a trysail. This is assessed to breach 41 by soliciting help from an outside source.'
No reference is made to the answer give, save for the fact that the video recording was in the hands of the media.
Meantime Investec Loyal has been declared to the the provisional winner, by the Race Committee despite the lodgement of their protest against her.
The provisional win is being regarded as a massive upset, with five times race winner, Wild Oats XI being a short-odds favorite for the race, with a top professional crew. She underwent a substantial refit earlier this year to enhance her chances of setting the race record and winning her sixth Rolex to Sydney Hobart Race. Investec Loyal?nid=92328
carries a number of celebrities aboard, and is campaigned by Anthony Bell with the objective of raising $1million for charitable causes. She also had a refit since her Maximus days, involving lengthening of the yachts to 100ft, and the addition of a new rig and sail-plan.
The protest has put a dampener on the race celebrations and the hearing will take place before the International Jury at 1000hrs local time on Thursday 29 December in Hobart.
It is alleged that Rule 41 (Outside Assistance) has been breached through the conversation with the helicopter pilot,.
The first line of RRS41 is clear 'A boat shall not receive help from any outside source...'
In the protest, an ABC helicopter pilot is named as a witness, and there is video of the dialogue?nid=92328
The conversation from Loyal Investec comprises two questions 'Can you confirm whether Wild Oats has their trysail up?'
To which the helicopter crew laugh and say they are not sure, as they aren't sailing people.
Loyal Investec's next question is 'What is the colour of the sail, the mainsail they have up?'
The response is 'they both have grey sails up.' To which the crewman's voice from Loyal Investec replies: 'Copy that. That is great news, thank you.'
The interviewee was subsequently identified as Michael Coxon, the CEO of North Sails Australia, who recently sold Wild Oats a new 3Di mainsail for the race. Coxon's query is attributed as a genuine inquiry as to whether one of the biggest mailsails that Norths have have has stood up to a testing time in the opening day of the race.
On shore, Loyal Investec skipper, Anthony Bell, explained the situation, as a comment having come off the back of a longer interview initiated by the helicopter crew as the overflew the race fleet, calling up boats for audio comment to accompany their video feed.
'It was the ABC who actually asked for the interview off us, it wasn't actually the other way round,' Bell said.
'It was just a question by Michael saying: 'Oh jeez, are they all right and I hope they haven't broken their mainsail'. These things cost a quarter-of-a-million dollars and of course he would be concerned as to his business reputation', Bell added.
Generally RRS41 is only breached when a yacht actually receives outside assistance as it talks about a boat 'receiving outside assistance' - not seeking the same. Further there is a subtle but important distinction between receiving information, and assistance. While there is no doubt from the audio that Investec Loyal received information, it will need to be shown how that information assisted her performance in the race and affected her result, or decisions taken at the time, or on the basis of the information received. In other words how that 'information' was turned into 'assistance'.
If a rule is found to be infringed, then under the racing rules a penalty must be applied, unless there is some discretion from the International Jury is allowed.
The report from the Race Committee does not appear to have the support of rival skipper Mark Richards of Wild Oats XI who in a television interview supported the view of Anthony Bell, that the query was just that from a sail manufacturer as to how his product was holding up in a crucial race, in testing conditions.
The answers to the two questions could be considered three ways by the International Jury. On one view the question could have been geared to uncovering whether Wild Oats was in substantially stronger breeze, than Loyal Investec.
On another view it could have just been a general inquiry as to whether Wild Oats XI were still in full race mode. Loyal Investec, although well reefed does not appear to be too pressed, and looks to be a long way from changing down to a trysail in place of her reefed mainsail.
The third interpretation is obviously as a sales support query, or peace of mind call, from Michael Coxon in his role with North Sails in Sydney, a supplier to Wild Oats.
The task of the Race Committee, if they wanted to make the charge stick, will be to prove that the information was turned into assistance. To do this they would probably need to support of Mark Richards or the crew of the most affected boat, Wild Oats XI, and it would seem that this is not forthcoming.
The hearing will take place at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania at 1000hrs on 29 December.