If you went up to someone random on the street and asked them what they thought Australia’s top five most successful sports were, they would not mention sailing.
A protest lodged against Sydney to Hobart line honours winner Wild Oats XI will go before a five-person international jury on Saturday.
Runner-up Black Jack has claimed the Automatic Identification System (AIS) on nine-time winner Wild Oats XI was not switched on during the race, giving the yacht an unfair advantage.
The event’s race committee late on Friday night lodged a protest against the supermaxi, with a hearing to be held by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) from 1pm in Hobart.
The race committee said it received a report from Black Jack saying the AIS had not transmitted “throughout the race”.
“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 won by just 28 minutes ahead of Black Jack on Friday morning in one of the closest finishes in the race’s history.
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 their decision.
“It’s hard to know. I wouldn’t want to speculate or even say if there is guilt in this,” Billingham said.
Sydney to Hobart race rules require the AIS transponder to be on and capable of transmitting.
“(AIS) was introduced this year as a mandatory requirement to improve the safety of the race,” Billingham said. “It’s a navigation and safety instrument, it’s not a racing tool as such.”
After arriving in Hobart, Black Jack skipper Peter Harburg said Wild Oats XI’s AIS was not on, meaning they couldn’t detect where the opposition boat was sailing.
“We didn’t know where they were and they knew where we were all the time, so that has disadvantaged us,” he told the ABC.
Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards, who will likely front the jury, has dismissed the controversy as a storm in a teacup.
Wild Oats XI won in a time of one day, 19 hours, 7 minutes and 21 seconds, with Richards labelling the win “redemption”.
It’s the second time in two years a protest has been lodged against Wild Oats XI.
The yacht was also first past the post in 2017 but lost line honours to Comanche, who finished third this year, after copping a time penalty for an infringement at the start of the race.
In this year’s handicap category, Tasmanian-owned Alive is leading the pack although that may change with the majority of the fleet yet to finish.