It didn’t take long for The Australian to pick up yesterday’s Tips story on the looming scandal over the eligibility of Wild Oats XI for the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. The Oz piece ran as news, splashed over six column on page 3 (not that they acknowledged us by name, preferring to describe Crikey as “an Australian website”. How gracious).

Rather than follow up the explosive allegation that the recently rebuilt Oats is now longer than the 100-foot (30.48m) limit for the Hobart race, reporter D.D.McNicoll simply went to the race organisers and the skipper of Wild Oats XI for reaction. Both adopted the Watergate defence: total denial.

boat parts

Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, John Cameron, said that the boat had a valid rating certificate stating that it was not more than 100 feet, and “that is the end of the matter”. Mark Richards, who has been skipper of Oats for a decade, told the Oz: “She is not too long. It is measured and approved.”

Nobody denies the yacht has been measured or that a certificate confirming compliance has been accepted by the CYCA. The issue, rather, is whether Wild Oats was measured correctly. The top section of the new curved bow of the hull clearly extends beyond the 100-foot limit. So where did the measurer place the end of his tape?

The rules of yacht racing allow for protests, and that is the most likely next step for any opposing crew with the courage to take on the might of the Wild Oats organisation. A protest of this nature would be heard by a committee nominated by the sport’s governing body, Yachting Australia. For many years one of the major sponsors of Yachting Australia has been Robert Oatley Wines. Robert Oatley is the owner of, er… Wild Oats XI. This could get ugly.

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Peter Fray

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