hobart histrionics

Today’s media launch for the Sydney-Hobart race was a strange affair. COVID social distancing rules kept all panelists the regulation 1.5 metres apart, while the reptiles of the press were each seated at a similar distance. The contrast between this compliance with current local health regulations and the cramped conditions for the crews who will be competing in the race just a month from now could not have been more stark.

The organizing authority, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, was delighted announce that they have accepted 89 entries. Not all of those will make it to the starting line on December 26, but it is still an encouraging number given there was no certainty that the race would even proceed until a month ago.

Health issues are still a concern. Access to the club and marina will be restricted on Boxing Day and the race village in Hobart will be closed to the public. Controlling the 200,000+ people who normally watch the start from vantage points around Sydney Harbour will be problematic, but that is a task beyond the CYCA’s control.

A far more direct concern for race organisers is the festering issue nobody dared mention at the media launch: two high-level protests have now been lodged challenging the club’s recent decision to exclude the two-handed entrants from the overall prize and any of the normal handicap divisions (see: SA July 27, August 4). 

Nineteen double-handed yachts remain on the Sydney-Hobart entry list, more than 20% of the fleet. But at least a dozen withdrew after the decision to exclude them from the overall prize was announced. 

The protests will be heard by a specially convened international jury tomorrow night.

The first protest is understood to rest on a claim that the club’s ruling (issued as an amendment to the NoR) came too late for skippers to respond by assembling more crew. It seems unlikely that such a generalised complaint would succeed within the narrow legalistic confines of a protest hearing.

However, the second protest – which is thought to rest on the waiving of RRS 52 (Manual Power and Appendages) – might well gain some traction. It is possible that the club’s oversight in not excluding rudders as ‘appendages’ in original NoR might, by default, have allowed the unrestricted use of powered autohelm. 

The arguments (not that we are ever likely to hear them outside the protest room), will be fascinating and may well determine the future character of short-handed offshore racing in Australia.

 – anarchist David