Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards was all smiles on Friday morning.
Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards was all smiles on Friday morning.

Wild Oats XI crew in ‘shock, disbelief’ over race scandal

WILD Oats XI won the 74th Sydney to Hobart yacht race, claiming line honours for a record ninth time, but controversy has erupted in the wake of the victory.

A protest has been lodged against the supermaxi after the race committee received a report from the owner of runner-up Black Jack that claimed Wild Oats XI's Automatic Identification System had not transmitted throughout the race.

It's a case of deja vu after Wild Oats XI was stripped of line honours in 2017 for an illegal manoeuvre at the beginning of the race. It copped a time penalty for its rules breach, handing victory to arch rival Comanche.

The Mark Richards-skippered supermaxi crossed the line in Hobart shortly after 8am on Friday after snatching the lead from defending line honours champion Comanche before sunrise.

Friday's win was initially thought to be sweet revenge for last year's mishap but the Wild Oats XI crew face a nervous wait to find out the result of a hearing.

An international five-person jury will meet to decide the winner's fate at 1pm (AEDT) on Saturday.

"The race committee took an internal review into the information provided and from other sources and decided there was a case to answer," CYCA commodore Paul Billingham said.

Wild Oats XI could be hit by a time penalty or even disqualification if the protest is upheld but little will be known until the jury makes its decision.

"It's hard to know. I wouldn't want to speculate or even say if there is guilt in this," Billingham said.

"(AIS) was introduced this year as a mandatory requirement to improve the safety of the race," he added.

"It's a navigation and safety instrument, it's not a racing tool as such."

Speaking on Fox Sports News on Saturday morning, Wild Oats XI engineer Cameron Baillie said the crew believed the AIS had been turned on and admitted to a sense of "shock and disbelief" after waking up to news of the protest.

"We will be a bit worried and do what we can so everyone knows we haven't tried to cheat," he said. "That's not something we would do."

Wild Oats XI's crew thought they had made up for last year’s controversy.
Wild Oats XI's crew thought they had made up for last year’s controversy.

Black Jack owner Peter Harburg and skipper Mark Bradford said Wild Oats XI's AIS - which per the rules must be operational at all times - was not on for the entire race.

"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".

Wild Oats XI navigator Juan Vila told The Daily Telegraph he believed the AIS was turned on for the entire race, and Richards dismissed the accusation as a "storm in a teacup".

"It's not a mandatory thing … we were in sight of each other the whole race, it was that close," Richards said.

Mark Richards’ smile may vanish if the jury finds against Wild Oats XI.
Mark Richards’ smile may vanish if the jury finds against Wild Oats XI.

Wild Oats XI finished this year in a time of one day, 19 hours, seven minutes and 21 seconds.

"It's a day of redemption for us that's for sure. We're so happy with the result," Richards said before news of the protest came through.

Black Jack was just 28 minutes behind, followed narrowly by Comanche and Infotrack.

All four supermaxis were in the River Derwent at the same time after on Thursday, after sailing within sight of one another down Tasmania's east coast. Wild Oats XI made an overnight gamble to sail a wider route near Tasman Island. It paid off.

"We basically sailed around the opposition and got ourselves into a position where the breeze filled in from the southwest - this morning we were in the right spot," Richards said.

"That was a game-winning manoeuvre right there."

Richards had a traditional dip in the River Derwent and champagne celebration at the conclusion of the 74th race.

"It was an amazing contest all the way until the end and I take my hat off to all of the maxi boats," he said.

Wild Oats XI posted a celebratory message on social media shortly after crossing the line.

With AAP

News Corp Australia

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