Investec Loyal still wins Sydney-Hobart

HOBART, Australia -- Supermaxi Investec Loyal was officially declared winner of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race after an international jury dismissed a protest that the supermaxi had used outside assistance to beat defending champion Wild Oats XI by three minutes in the event's closest finish in 29 years.

Investec Loyal crossed the line first Wednesday, but the result was placed under protest when the race committee alleged Investec Loyal had used a television helicopter pilot to spy on Wild Oats XI.

The protest under rule 41 was heard Thursday by the jury, which ruled that the information on Wild Oats XI's sails received by the winning yacht did not affect the race outcome and was not done to seek an unfair advantage.

In an audio recording, Investec Loyal tactician Michael Coxon was heard asking a media helicopter pilot: "Can you confirm, does Wild Oats have their trysail up? What color is the mainsail they've got up?"

Coxon apparently was interested because he is chief executive of the company that supplied the sails to Wild Oats XI.

Before the jury met, Investec Loyal skipper Anthony Bell said he was confident the protest would be dismissed.

"We respect the fact that there's rules to yachting and we will of course oblige that," he said. "We are confident that the outcome will confirm our victory in the race."

Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards also said before the jury met that he hoped "common sense will prevail" and that his yacht and crew would refuse to be presented with the trophy if Investec Loyal was disqualified.

"It was a great race, great for the sport, Richards said. "It's (the protest) a real shame. We wouldn't accept it, it wouldn't be the right outcome at all."

Last year, the race committee alleged that Wild Oats XI had not radioed in before crossing Bass Strait. That protest also was later dismissed.

In a dramatic final day, Investec Loyal overtook Wild Oats XI at midafternoon Wednesday and held on in a tight, tactical tussle to reverse last year's finishing order, crossing the line just ahead of its rival after 628 nautical miles.

The 100-foot Investec Loyal finished at 7:17 p.m. local time, 2 days, 6 hours, 14 minutes, 18 seconds after leaving Sydney.

The race was the first since 1997 to still be actively contested in the Derwent River which leads to the finish line off Constitution Dock in Hobart, capital of the island state of Tasmania.

Wild Oats XI led for most of the race but finished 3 minutes, 8 seconds behind Investec Loyal. The finish was the closest in a generation but well outside the narrowest margin in the race's history: the 7-second gap between Condor of Bermuda and Apollo in 1982.

Lahana crossed the line in third place, more than six hours after Wild Oats XI, while Loki was fourth.

"It was one of the great experiences in my life," Bell said. "The whole thing from the very start, right through to the finish line was exhilarating."

Coxon said credit for the win belonged to Investec Loyal's American navigator.

"The difference is a gentleman called Stan Honey," he said. "He is an absolute legend, just amazing. His knowledge of weather and weather routing and the information he provides to me ... at the end of the day he is just so good."