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has the fat lady sung yet?

If we are to give any credit to the persistent gossip among the Down Under offshore community then the validity of Celestial’s recent Sydney-Hobart overall win could still be challenged. Rolex might have to ask for their watch back. 

As reported on Sailing Anarchy, skipper Sam Haynes has already had to hand back the ORCi trophy after a photo taken late on the first day of the race showed Celestial contravening ORC 208, the rule that prohibits setting a flying jib inside a spinnaker. 

That breach was considered sufficiently newsworthy to be given major coverage in The Sydney Morning Herald, one of Australia’s most respected daily newspapers.

The publication of Celestial’s error and subsequent ‘retirement’ in the mainstream media prompted owner Sam Haynes to respond in a Facebook post. He suggested that the article “may have given some people a false impression” and outlined his version of events. Haynes wrote: “Celestial became aware after the race prize presentation that we flew a sail plan that potentially contravened ORCI rule 208.” 

Forget “potentially”. The crucial word there is “after”. 

Social media had already reported that there were rumblings of dissent and heated words exchanged between some of the leading TP52 crews shortly after they’d docked in Hobart. The photo was known. That was two days before the presentation ceremony. 

But there is another issue brewing that could threaten Celestial’s overall win on IRC. 

In essence, the concerns center on a last-minute reduction in the yacht’s IRC number before the Sydney-Hobart. The new data was lodged on the final permissible day. The hard facts of this matter are difficult to establish beyond doubt, so we need to tread very carefully through these murky waters. 

For the warm-up Cabbage Tree Island Race on December 2, Celestial rated 1.399. The new IRC certificate issued a fortnight later on December 16, ten days before the Hobart race, reduced that rating to 1.390 – a significant improvement of 9 ‘clicks’. 

A major contributor to that change (accounting for around half the rating benefit) appears to have been a substantial reduction in the bulb weight of 239 kilos. There was a roughly equal rating gain from the re-cut and/or re-measurement of some sails. 

On January 2 one of the professionals in the Celestial crew, Jack Macartney, was quoted on a local sailing website saying: “In campaigning, you push every avenue, right? You have to work on your program, you have to worked with your team, and you have to work on your rating. I said to Sam that I want to remeasure the boat and try and get the rating better than where we were. 

“So we weighed the boat, and discovered that it was heavier than thought. We went to J/V and they said, well, you should take a couple of hundred kilos out of the bulb. Our rating came out fantastic – nine points lower than where we were.”

Rating optimization is, of course, a legitimate part of yacht racing. The performance levels of the best TP52s are now so close that the contest has become as much about extracting the last decimal place of rating advantage as it is of sailing ability. 

But when someone is happy to say, on the record, that they “push every avenue” then their competitors are understandably encouraged to start snooping around the detail of rating certificates to check that everything is in order.

The variables are endless, and not all of the data for the re-rating of Celestial was collected at the same time, or by the same person. The doubters point to apparent inconsistencies between the new bulb weight and the previous boat weight. LOA and overhang variations have been scrutinized. Perhaps the previous figures were wrong. 

It is these imponderables that have prompted all the muttering and head-shaking. Sour grapes? Envy? Or are there real disparities that should be investigated? Who knows.

Anyone with a valid interest can ask for an IRC rating review. If on re-measurement, the new number for Celestial was found to be .005 or more in error then the previous rating applies (Rule 9.7). That would bump the yacht down to third place in the overall Sydney-Hobart results and make Gweilo the winner.  

Whatever happens or not, this has been an unsavory aftermath to one of the world’s great ocean races. It surely also underlines the flaws in running two concurrent rating systems for the same event. 

In its statement of ‘Fundamental Policy’ the IRC says, at 2.5: 

“The spirit of IRC requires that owners and designers shall not seek means of artificially reducing the rating of a boat, e.g. increasing performance without a corresponding increase in rating.”

Well, maybe.

 – anarchist David