Ichi Ban has become the first yacht to win back-to-back Sydney to Hobart handicap honours in more than 50 years after rival Celestial copped a “devastating” time penalty.
Celestial was penalised 40 minutes for breaching race rules after protests lodged by Ichi Ban and the race committee were upheld in the early hours of Friday.
Celestial, which was ahead of Ichi Ban in overall standings after the pair arrived in Hobart mere minutes apart, has been relegated to second.
Celestial skipper and owner Sam Haynes said while he respected the international jury’s decision it was a “very, very difficult penalty to swallow.”
“As far as I’m concerned, the decision stands. There’s nothing I can do about that,” he told reporters.
“It’s a devastating moment. I’ve been trying to win this race for 10 years.”
Both protests related to a race rule that requires competitors to keep constant radio contact.
On Monday night, the race committee was notified by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) that a crew member aboard Celestial had activated a personal locator beacon (PLB).
The committee was unable to contact Celestial and called on Ichi Ban, which was sailing nearby, to contact the yacht by VHF radio.
Ichi Ban made contact about 90 minutes after the initial AMSA notification after releasing a flare which caught Celestial’s attention.
It was confirmed the PLB had been activated accidentally and AMSA was told to stand down search and rescue aircraft.
The jury found Celestial did not hear any attempts to contact her on VHF during the incident.
It ruled Ichi Ban did not alter its course as a result of the incident but did prepare and deploy two flares which “temporarily affected her performance.”
The race committee noted 12 other PLBs were accidentally activated during the race and in each case the boat responded within 25 minutes.
Haynes said his crew didn’t know it was unable to hear the radio and always raced with a safety first approach.
“The problems with communication in this race were not just isolated to Celestial,” he said.
“I’ve been sailing bluewater racing now for a long time. It happens continuously.
“We thought at the line we had time and we did. We raced the race of our lives. To have won it fair and square would have been something we would have deserved and now we can’t do that.”
Haynes said he thanked Ichi Ban for setting off the flare and alerting them to the problem.
“I thought it was a gesture of good sportsmanship, and it was. But I didn’t realise we were going to be (a) protested by them or (b) be protested by the racing committee,” he said.
“It’s not actually good for the sport to have these technicalities. Things that people are really going to find hard to understand.
“This is the most important race in Australia, potentially one of the most important races in the world and this is the way it’s gone.”
Ichi Ban arrived in Hobart with its protest flag raised but skipper Matt Allen didn’t initially indicate whether one would be lodged.
Freya was the last yacht to claim back-to-back handicap honours as part of its 1963-65 three-peat.
In 2017, a successful protest over a near collision resulted in supermaxi Wild Oats XI copping a one-hour penalty and losing line honours to LDV Comanche.
Supermaxi Black Jack claimed line honours this year in the slowest time since 2004.