Front Rudder - February 2019

Safety Rules?

I began this piece thinking and advocating that ultimately cheaters win. On the face of it, that is how it appears in many ways. There are specific race rules in place for safety that were not followed, for whatever reason. If rules are not enforced, what good are they?

In football, like many sports, there is instant booth review replay. In the America′s Cup there are on-the-water umpires and judges where penalties are enforced immediately. Of course, that is all but impossible in a distance race, but that is what race jury hearings are about. Which is almost my favorite part of the sport! I love a challenge.

In this instance, in this race, again there was a penalty that should have been enforced, but for reasons that will remain dubious at best they went unheard; more later. But, at least for a day all of us pundits were able to weigh in on Tom Ehman′s Sailing Illustrated Facebook podcast, where an awesome world-wide forum was conducted with a vast majority voting for penalties.

Again, I am saving the details for later so at least you′ll have to read on or at least flip a few pages.

So, follow below for some stories from the best sailing event during our winter and the heart of Australia′s summer with Rolex′s Sydney to Hobart yacht race which, like the Chicago to Mackinac Race in many respects, means what you start with rarely means what you end up with!

This race features the most intense crazy harbor starts of any place in the world, surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colors of sailing yachts of all shapes and sizes.

Sydney Harbor was at her finest for a Boxing Day start, with glorious sunny weather and a 10-15 knot north to north-easterly wind later reaching 25 knots outside the Heads. And the 85 yachts delivered magnificently with their display of color and sailing prowess.

However, no sooner had the massive spectator fleet, those on shore and the television audience witnessed the three waves of boats start and then charge up the Harbor with the legendary Sydney Opera House as a backdrop creating a trail of zigzagging wakes as they gybed to port and starboard then set spinnakers for the first of many dramas.

There were no false starts or collisions that have marred previous starts, but two early retirements reminded us once again how the 628 nautical mile race can so mercilessly turn on any crew or boat.

An exciting noon start to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia′s annual 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with all five super maxis vying for the lead at one stage before leaving Sydney Heads.

This year′s race marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, the most disastrous in the race′s history, with the loss of six lives and five yachts. 55 sailors were rescued in the largest search and rescue effort ever seen in Australia. Such a sailing calamity hadn′t been seen since the 1979 Fastnet Race.

The 1998 race, like every other edition, began on Boxing Day with 115 starters heading south. A favorable current running south at 4 knots with strengthening north to north-easterly winds of generally 25-35 knots prevailing off the NSW southern coast allowed a record-breaking dash south down the Australian East Coast.

By the next morning the lead yachts led by Larry Ellison′s Sayonara with Chris Dickson at the helm entered Bass Strait and began to encounter winds in excess of 40 knots. Sayonara′s hull had begun to delaminate and of the 115 boats which started, 71 retired and 44 yachts completed the race.

On the 2nd day of the race, severe weather conditions struck the fleet off the south-eastern Australian coast. An unusually strong low-pressure depression developed which resulted in mid-summer snow across parts of south-east Australia.

The weather system built into an exceptionally strong storm with winds in excess of 65 knots and gusts to 80 knots. The storm caused the sinking of five boats, seven were abandoned and 55 other sailors had to be rescued from their yachts by ships and helicopters.

Overall, the rescue efforts involved 35 military and civilian aircraft and 27 Royal Australian Navy vessels, and proved to be Australia′s largest ever peacetime rescue operation.

The six sailors who died were: Phillip Charles Skeggs (Business Post Naiad, drowned); Bruce Raymond Guy (Business Post Naiad, heart attack); John Dean, James Lawler and Michael Bannister (Winston Churchill, all drowned); and Glyn Charles (Sword of Orion, drowned).

The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia released a report of the findings. The results of the inquest were released on 12 December 2000, the New South Wales coroner finding that the CYCA had “abdicated its responsibility to manage the race” writing that; “from what I have read and heard, it is clear to me that during this crucial time the race management team played the role of observers rather than managers and that was simply not good enough.” But he acknowledged the club′s actions to upgrade safety precautions and sailor qualifications. The NSW Coroner′s office also criticized the Weather Bureau for making insufficient efforts to inform race officials of a dramatically upgraded weather forecast about the severe storm developing south of Eden, when it was common public knowledge the race was scheduled to begin. As a remedial measure, he required the Bureau to add maximum wind gust speed and wave height to its forecasts.

The day after the coroner′s findings, the club′s race director resigned his position. According to the coroner′s report, “his inability to appreciate the problems when they arose and his inability to appreciate them at the time of giving his evidence causes me concern that (he) may not appreciate such problems as they arise in the future.”

Sayonara was first to finish in the tragic race with Ellison vowing he would never sail a distance race again.

The tragedy was commemorated and remembered in various ways.

John Dean was aboard Winston Churchill whose crew abandoned for life rafts and his body never recovered. His younger son, Peter, was 15 at the time and sailed his first Sydney Hobart on Winning Appliances this year, specifically entered by family friends, the Winnings, in remembrance of the tragedy.

Sailing this year provided Dean some closure. “The monkey is off my back,” said Dean whose mother Penny, wife Kate and children were there to see him off in Sydney and in Hobart to see him arrive.

Ed Psaltis, a veteran of 37 Sydney Hobarts and overall winner in 1998, was disappointed for not making real his dream of marking the 20th anniversary with another win in the race in which his father, Bill Psaltis a 22-race veteran, fired the 10-minute warning gun. On his Sydney 36 Midnight Rambler, he had to settle for third in Division 4.

The list of memories in this year′s race, no doubt, could go on. And no doubt it will through the reflections, chat and banter of all those involved over the coming days, weeks and months perhaps longer. And so, it should for such an iconic Australian sport event. Now here we are 20 years later, a lot smarter and safer.

After clean starts on all three lines, the Oatley family′s Wild Oats XI and Peter Harburg′s Black Jack were neck-and neck, while InfoTrack and Sun Hung Kai Scallywag gave chase and Comanche made a swooping tack to the east of the Harbor. Black Jack′s skipper, Mark Bradford, then put the foot to the accelerator to see the Queensland boat leave her rivals behind for the right-hand turn at South Head for the Bass Straits and Hobart, Tasmania.

Wild Oats XI was next, Seng Hung Lee′s Sun Hung Kai Scallywag and Christian Beck′s InfoTrack followed. But it wasn′t long before the powerful Comanche made a comeback to hold a slight lead at 2.45 p.m., with the other supers in hot pursuit; no more than a mile between the five.

It wasn′t long before the two Reichel-Pugh 66′s, Phillip Turner′s Alive and the Stacey Jackson skippered, all-female crew on Wild Oats X had overhauled her, but the other “60”s′ were not far behind.

Those on the two start lines behind did not fare as well as the front line as the breeze kept dropping out and became patchy making it particularly difficult for the third line boats to lay their turning mark at Sydney Heads.

All 85 boats eventually cleared the Heads, the smallest boat in the fleet, Army Sailing Club′s 30-foot Gun Runner, skippered by Reece Young, having the distinction of last boat to clear the Harbor. However, she had four or five boats for company, only slightly ahead of her.

The move leads many to reconsider their predictions as to the overall victory in this year′s 628 nautical mile race. Matt Allen′s defending champion, Ichi Ban, a TP52, still rates No. 1 with the most, and was up challenging the 60-plus footers of the race. However, little boats like Bruce Taylor′s Caprice 40, Chutzpah (Vic) sailing well in her favored off the wind conditions. A second Victorian, John Newbold′s RP51 Primitive Cool was also up amongst it.

At the other end of the fleet, Gun Runner and LeeAnn Lynch′s Elan 43 Relish IV, with 49 Sydney Hobart race veteran Bill Ratcliff on board, were almost level pegging.

Medium north easterly winds continue along the NSW Coast, meaning the super maxis are unable to put a lot of distance on the bulk of the fleet at this early stage of the race.

Gordon Ketelbey reported his yacht Zen had rig damage and that they were retiring to Wollongong and shortly thereafter Sun Hung Kai Scallywag reported a broken bowsprit and retired with the David Witt skippered boat returned to Birkenhead Point Marina in Sydney.

In the closest contest in the history of the race, the four remaining super maxis were separated by just five nautical miles the next morning with Comanche leading the way, though off the record pace. Peter Harburg′s Black Jack and Christian Beck′s InfoTrack have taken the inside lane closer to the rhumb line as they try to slip past the two leaders.

Chris Links reported from Wild Oats XI this morning: “We crossed tacks with Comanche a couple of times this morning. We can just see Black Jack too. There′s nothing in it.  We′re doing 18 knots in a northerly of 15 knots. We′re on the edge of Bass Strait and entering it.”

Links conceded, “This is the closest race we′ve been in and we′ve been in close races with Comanche before, but never been in such a close race with four of us.”

The four-way battle between the remaining super maxis was a nail-biter to the finish with the Oatley family′s Wild Oats XI finally surging away from her nearest rivals at Tasman Light to cement a race winning lead.

Until then, only four miles separated not only them, but also with Christian Beck′s InfoTrack for most of the race. The sight of all four boats on the Derwent River at once even after Wild Oats XI established her lead was historic.

The sight of Wild Oats XI sailing to the finish though was majestic, especially with a magnificent spectator fleet in her tow. That a boat 14-years old and with eight previous wins to her credit could still beat such a strong list of challengers was testimony to those who had designed, built, maintained and sailed her over those years. However, in her wake, the battle between Comanche, Black Jack and InfoTrack was absorbing; with Black Jack edging out last year′s winner Comanche in the last 100 yards after matching her from Tasman Island on.

As Wild Oats XI took line honors in a finish which will be remembered differently as we read on.

Owner Val Oatley described Wild Oats XI′s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honors victory perfectly alongside the dock in Hobart this morning: “Three years of misery to this moment,” and you could not wipe the smile from her face or that of her sons, Sandy and Ian, as they waited for their super maxi to moor alongside Kings Pier. Sandy Oatley also commented: “I was very nervous watching the tracker last night isn′t this a wonderful sight…”

Three years of trauma for the Wild Oats family when the yacht retired from the 2015 race with a torn main followed by Bob Oatley′s death in January 2016. Another retirement in 2016, this time with hydraulic ram issues. Then came last year′s much publicized finish when Wild Oats XI was penalized one hour after an incident with Comanche and lost her line honors crown and a new race record to Jim Cooney′s “aircraft carrier.”

This year′s victory makes it a new record of nine race line honors for Wild Oats XI, which broke the seven years of line honors stranglehold of Kurrewa/Morna in 2014.

It was a blissful moment for the Oatley family and their supporters even the finish time of one day 19 hours 7 minutes 21 seconds, well outside Comanche′s race record of last year, could not wipe the smiles or tears away after the silver hulled super crossed the Castray Esplanade finish line at 08.07.21.

Skipper Mark “Ricko” Richards handed the helm over to the late Bob Oatley′s grandson, Daniel (Ian Oatley′s son), on his third Sydney Hobart on the family yacht, before they crossed the finish line after gybing all the way up the River under Code Zero.

Wild Oats XI won the hard-fought battle between four of the five super maxis entered in the race and until the end the four were still locked in a tight fight for honors just 4 nautical miles separating them before Wild Oats XI came into her own at the finish.

Peter Harburg′s Black Jack from Queensland was second over the line followed by Comanche after the two went gybe for gybe to the finish after rounding the Iron Pot. Christian Beck′s InfoTrack finished shortly thereafter.

Never in the history of the race have four yachts been in a fight for supremacy throughout the entire race. It kept everyone on tenterhooks for the most exciting finishes since Bob Bell′s Condor of Bermuda beat Jack Rooklyn′s Apollo over the finish line by seven seconds in 1982.

The dark before the dawn began when the CYCA, the organizing authority for the race, was advised that the Race Committee had lodged a protest against Wild Oats XI.

The Race Committee received a report from the owner of Black Jack advising that Wild Oats XI′s AIS had not transmitted throughout the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2018.

On investigation, and based on its own evidence, the Race Committee considered there may have been a breach of S.I. 11.4 in respect of Special Regulation 4.09 (a).

The CYCA Commodore, Paul Billingham explained: “The Race Committee is independent of the organizing authority of the race to ensure objectivity is maintained and seen to be maintained in circumstances such as this.”

The line honors outcome was marred by the uncertainty of a Race Committee protest against Wild Oats XI.

The protest was to be heard by the International Jury, chaired by Russell Green (NZL) in the Jury Room at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania on Saturday, December 29 at 1300 hrs.

It is understood that the second placed competitor Black Jack did not lodge a protest herself, although comment was made about alleged infringement to the media by Black Jack crew after their arrival in Hobart. The Int Jury can only consider first-hand evidence, not hearsay evidence, which will require either crews from other yachts to testify, or for the Race Committee to offer their own evidence or to take evidence submitted by the crew of Wild Oats XI.

AIS (Automatic Identification System) was introduced this year as a mandatory requirement to improve the safety of the race and while its purpose is as a navigation and safety instrument, it provides critical tactical information when competing boats are within range of each other.

Black Jack′s Harburg said he would not formally protest, but when the Race Committee received a report from Harburg advising that Wild Oats XI′s AIS had not transmitted throughout the course, their investigation believed there had been a breach of S.I. 11.4 in respect of Special Regulation 4.09 (a): An AIS Transponder shall be carried and be such that it is receiving and transmitting.

The contention being that Oates was camouflaging its position by remaining “invisible” to its competitors. After docking in Hobart, Black Jack skipper Peter Harburg told media Wild Oats XI had their AIS switched off when race rules state it must always be on. He didn′t, however, lodge an official protest but his comments were enough to prompt a race committee investigation.

“The rules say every boat must have the AIS on,′′ Harburg said. “The AIS means there are no secrets. We know where everyone is, they know what speed we are doing, what direction we are going. If you are going to win the race you should win it according to the rules… it should be fair.” Harburg also said it was “a pity that such a great race as this, which has been a close race with all of us changing position all the way down… got bad at the end because someone just doesn′t have any regard for the rules.”

Sailing Illustrated′s Tom Ehman wrote that; “WOXI skipper Mark Richards reportedly told the Australian Broadcast Corp (ABC) post-race that, “[AIS being switched on] is not a mandatory thing… we were in sight of each other the whole race, it was that close,” describing the accusation as a storm in a teacup. Ehman continued; “the jury′s options range from dismissing the protest (no penalty), to upholding the protest with a penalty ranging from a slap on the wrist (e.g., public apology) to disqualification and more. Some of our dear readers have already argued that Black Jack not being willing to protest, they (and the RC) should STFU – Shut the F... Up. Others say, the rules are the rules, turning off the AIS is clear evidence of cheating, so WOXI should be disqualified and a Rule 69 (gross misconduct) action taken against them, and additional penalties (e.g., banned from the sport).”

However, following the protest by the Race Committee, it was found that the protest was invalid and so Wild Oats XI retains her line honors crown.


1. The Race Committee′s investigation and subsequent protest arose from the report from the owner of Black Jack, a competitor in the Race and therefore a person with a conflict of interest within the meaning of the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS).

2. The Race Committee′s investigation was prudent, however in these circumstances, for the protest to be valid under the Racing Rules of Sailing, a competitor with information about a potential rule breach must lodge the protest.

Rules that apply: RRS60.2 (a), Definitions – Conflict of Interest.

“Redemption, guys… Redemption day…” yelled a beaming Richards to the cheering crowd on the docks after he skippered Wild Oats XI to a record ninth line honors victory.

As Richards screamed, he was still on the miracle, skinny super maxi yacht that he later dubbed “the Phar Lap of yachting” with owner Sandy Oatley and Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore Paul Billingham who presented him the John H. Illingworth trophy.

“It′s redemption for us, that′s for sure,” Richards reiterated after stepping onto the dock. “After last year′s result (which was) so disappointing was Wild Oats′ 10th time over the line first, regardless of what anyone else says. We are so happy with the result. It was an amazing, amazing contest to the end. I take my hat off to all the super maxis. All teams did an awesome job. We all (the four maxis yachts) came into the Derwent together. So, what more could you ask for?”

Richards compared his emotion to last year, saying: “It′s sort of black and white isn′t it? We did an awesome job last year and last year we made a mistake and we paid for that. That′s just sport, there are no issues at all. I take my hat off to the Comanche guys. They did a fantastic job. The boat was going really fast, way faster in the light than we thought she would. We couldn′t catch her in the light air which is really unusual.”

Richards praised his crew citing strategist Iain Murray (one of the most honest and reputable persons in the sport of sailing), navigator Juan Vila and tactician Glenn Bourke for their roles in Wild Oats XI′s move at Tasman Light at 4 a.m. when she overtook Comanche.

But a normally mild-mannered Mark Richards is still fuming 24 hours after a controversial protest against Wild Oats XI was ruled invalid by the International Jury.

But the smiles turned to grimaces 12 hours later when Richards was phoned by the Race Committee and informed that they were being protested for not displaying their position on AIS.

“We did an AIS check, there is video footage of navigator Juan Vila doing the AIS check on the way out to the start,” said Richards, speaking to Richard Gladwell from Sail-World. “When you are on board the boat you′ve no idea whether you are actually transmitting or not. If the device says you are transmitting, then you assume that you are sending a signal. We do the right thing for the club and the spectators, and every year we carry a cameraman aboard the boat. We did the AIS check and that can be seen on the website.”

“It is a very high microwave frequency and it can interfere with other equipment at times,” said Richards. “I totally believe that is what happened. We got everything rebooted and got everything going afterwards. We were receiving AIS, when you are receiving, you also believe that you are transmitting OK as well and as far as we were concerned that was end of story.”

The Automatic Information System (AIS) is a separate device on board which takes the vessels GPS position and transmits that with a vessel identification code via VHF radio to other vessels in the vicinity who can receive AIS signals. It is a collision warning system, its range is very limited, but adequate to identify vessels to one another. It is a safety system and is indicative only. It can also be used in a man overboard situation when a personal AIS crew beacon is activated.

Following her electrifying victory Alive did her lap of honor past the Taste of Tasmania, something the entire fleet get to do on finishing. It was crowded with locals and visitors alike. The cheer was more a roar, when it was announced Phillip Turner′s 66-footer was a local Tasmanian.

For Turner the dream of winning the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race began five or six years ago when he was watching the finish and suddenly thought: “I′d like to win that one day.”

This year that dream became real for Turner, a retired professional gambler, when his yacht Alive was formally declared the overall winner of this year′s race and he received the Tattersall Cup from the CYAC Commodore Billingham. However, as he prepared to accept one of the world′s most prestigious offshore racing awards, Turner was still coming to terms with his success, saying: “It still hasn′t sunk in.” Alive′s overall win in the Rolex Sydney Hobart is only the fourth by a Tasmanian boat. The last was Bob Cumming′s Screw Loose in 1979. The previous two were G.D. Gibson′s Westward in 1947 and 1948.

The significance of adding to Tasmanian sailing history was not lost on Turner, nor on his skipper and project manager to their Sydney Hobart campaign, Duncan Hine his lifelong mate.

“It′s great for Tasmania,” said Turner who bought Alive, formerly named Black Jack, in 2014, with the intention of winning the race.

“I looked at what was available,” said Turner of his pursuit to find the best boat for his campaign. “I got (Australian boat designer) Fred Barrett to help me and basically we kept coming back to this boat.”

More than 80 women raced, and they left an indelible mark. The campaign run by the professional all-female crew on Wild Oats X was a huge success. It also featured former Foreign Affairs Minister Hon Julie Bishop MP as an ambassador for their campaign in support of ocean sustainability. She was on board for the start and jumped off near Bondi Beach and she was dockside for their arrival in Hobart.

The Oatley family boat, the sistership to Wild Oats XI, finished second overall but she gave the eventual Tattersall Cup winning boat Alive a real run for her money. The close contest between the two brought the best out of the two boats and crews.

It led to Wild Oats X skipper, Stacey Jackson, being awarded the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy as the first female skipper to finish the race. Jackson believes the crew she skippered should return to next year′s 75th edition in another bid to win the race overall. Jackson signed off on her 12th Sydney Hobart when she and her crew crossed the Derwent River finish line. She was sixth boat to finish, five behind Wild Oats XI. “I reckon we have probably proven our worth this week and it would be a shame to not continue (as a crew),” Jackson said. “I imagine all the girls would come back. We′ve had an amazing time together. We′re really looking forward to doing some more sailing.”

Come back and see us next month and write me at H

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