justice is served?

It is a peculiar state of affairs when an international jury needs to be convened to adjudicate on two protests exactly a month before the race in question is due to begin. That is the bizarre circumstance that confronted the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia after their decision to exclude two-handed entrants using auto-helm from the overall prize and any of the existing handicap divisions in the Sydney-Hobart race.

(For those coming into this saga late: an oversight in the original Notice of Race would have allowed the two-handers to use auto-helm and be eligible for all divisions and the overall prize. Skippers of fully crewed boats soon complained that auto-helm gave the two-handers an unfair advantage. The club then issued an amendment that restricts all two-handed entrants solely to their own division.)

The protests were heard by a five-person jury on November 26. Both were against the Race Committee (technically in the form of applications for redress). While the two protests came at the issue from different angles, together they were intended to force the CYCA to reverse, or qualify, its amendment to the original NoR.  

The first protest rather cunningly attempted to turn the tables, arguing that as the original NoR actually allowed fully crewed boats to use auto-helm to control the rudder as a “moveable appendage”, why not everyone? But the jury was quick to counter that proposition by pointing to an NoR amendment of November 5 stating that for fully crewed boats “The rotation of a boat’s rudder shall be adjusted and operated only by the power provided by the crew.

As to the secondary argument that these amendments were done improperly and in unreasonable haste, the jury found, as fact, that the process for amendments to the NoR was followed correctly, and that the protesting skipper had signed the Conditions of Entry that acknowledged he would accept any such amendments.

“The Organising Authority has the right to determine the conditions of their event”, they concluded. “There was no improper action or omission by the Organising Authority or Race Committee. Redress denied.”

The main thrust of the second protest was that the amendment to the NoR restricting the two-handers to their own division came too late for those entrants to make alternative arrangements if they wished to compete in the normal Sydney-Hobart handicap categories.

But the jury would have none of it, finding that “The Amendment to the Notice of Race was made seven weeks before the scheduled start of the Race, which constituted adequate notice having regard to the circumstances.” Again, redress was denied.

The message behind all this careful protest committee language is clear: if you want to compete in the CYCA’s races, then you sail by their rules. But the remaining crews in the two-handed fleet (almost half the original entrants have now pulled out) are far from happy. Once the distractions of COVID abate, this is an issue for the sport of offshore sailing in Australia that’s likely to re-emerge.

 – anarchist David