The conclusion of the Wild Oats XI AIS saga is entirely unsatisfactory and reflects credit on none of the people involved. All it has done is give encouragement to those who believe that the fundamental sporting spirit of offshore racing has become distorted by big-money owners, the professionals who depend on them for their livelihoods, and vested commercial interests.
The decision by Black Jack owner Peter Harburg to make a public complaint about WOXI switching off their AIS but not then to back up that allegation with a formal protest was gutless. Interviewed after the International Jury dismissed the Race Committee’s protest on a technicality he told the media “We don’t protest. That’s it.”
What balderdash. Would he not protest if he found himself disadvantaged in a port/starboard clash? Would he not protest if he saw a competitor rounding the wrong mark? Protests are an entirely legitimate part of our sport, not just to establish right from wrong and apportion penalties or redress, but also as a way of ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules.
Harburg wished to paint himself as a gentleman whose lofty Corinthian principles prevented him from accusing a fellow competitor of cheating. Instead, he has left that allegation untested.
It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the Jury members were mightily relieved to unearth the obscure paragraph of the black-letter law in the Racing Rules of Sailing that allowed them to avoid any consideration of the facts of the AIS case.
They were, of course, well within their rights to invoke RRS 60.2 because that rule prevents them from considering a protest that has arisen “as a result of a report from an interested party” (in this case the aforementioned soft-cock skipper of Black Jack).
But, in my humble submission, they could still have considered the alleged AIS breach under Rule 69.1 (a) – Gross Misconduct – which empowers them to investigate any “gross breach of a rule, good manners or sportsmanship”. They can do this on the prompting of the Race Committee alone, without a protest from a competitor. That they chose not to do so indicates, at least to my mind, an unhealthy eagerness to wash their hands of the whole affair.
Finally, we must consider the conduct of Wild Oats XI and its skipper, Mark Richards.
Initially, Richards declared that it was “not mandatory” to keep the AIS operating in both ‘transmit’ and ‘receive’ modes throughout the race. The Sailing Instructions say otherwise. By this morning Richards had changed his approach, telling the media that the AIS had been malfunctioning.
But, as a tech-savvy contributor to the Sailing Anarchy forum proved, the data stream from WOXI’s AIS was working fine until just before the start on Boxing Day, then mysteriously its transmissions stopped for the rest of the race. What a coincidence.
The records will now show that Wild Oats XI took line honours in the 2018 Sydney-Hobart but this was surely a tainted victory, and will be remembered as such.
– Anarchist David