Super maxi Investec Loyal has taken line honours in the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. But not without a fight. Firstly, they had to hold off a strong challenge from pre-race favourite Wild Oats XI. And then their victory dance was put on hold due to a protest by the Sydney to Hobart race committee.

Loyal - Constitution Dock Hobart

Investec Loyal: Rolex Sydney Hobart yacht race

Investec Loyal v Wild Oats XI

Having taken Sydney to Hobart line honours on five previous occasions, Wild Oats XI was the boat to beat this year. And that’s exactly what Investec Loyal managed to do, by the smallest of margins. After a see-sawing duel down the east coast of southern Australia, across Bass Strait and continuing down the east coast of Tasmania, the winning margin was just three minutes. And eight seconds, to be precise.

Loyal - Wild Oats XI

Investec Loyal inches in front of Wild Oats XI

It’s hard to imagine a race sailed over 600 nautical miles could still be up for grabs at the end. But the crowds lining the Hobart waterfront and elsewhere along the Derwent River, were treated to a thrilling conclusion. There was a hive of activity on the river and in the air, as boats, helicopters and the local sea plane escorted both super maxi yachts to the finish line.

Loyal - Line Honours

Loyal approaches the Hobart finish line

Rolex Sydney Hobart Protest

The support team of Investec Loyal, waiting on tenterhooks in Hobart for the arrival of the crew, would probably have liked the margin to be a bit larger. And just when they thought they’d won; when the champagne corks were popped; news of a protest started to filter through.

Loyal - Support Crew, Hobart

Investec Loyal: Hobart Tasmania

Apparently on day two, Investec Loyal tactician Michael Coxon asked an ABC helicopter crew to confirm which sails were being used by Wild Oats XI. Receiving outside assistance while the race is underway is against the rules and can be cause for disqualification.

But after a marathon, three-hour hearing before an international jury it was all deemed legal. It turns out that Michel Coxon (as his day job) makes sails, and that his racing competitor was using his custom designed mainsail. The jury believed his argument that his query was purely related to professional business, and not an attempt to cheat.

Loyal - Sydney to Hobart Line Honours

Rolex Sydney to Hobart

Celebrity Crew: Loyal Foundation

Anthony Bell, skipper of Investec Loyal, was finally free to celebrate with the rest of his crew. That crew, besides 16 professionals, included a celebrity contingent… Karl Stefanovic, Kurt Fearnley, Anthony Minichiello, Phil Kearns and Phil Waugh. The reason for inviting novice sailors on such a demanding challenge? To raise the profile of the Loyal Foundation, which aims to give a million dollars each year to charity. Got to admire that, even if you’re not interested in the multi-million dollar boats.

Loyal - Anthony Bell's Super Maxi

Anthony Bell’s super maxi yacht: Loyal Foundation

What I also admired in all the excitement, was the extremely sporting gesture of Mark Richards, the skipper of second-placed Wild Oats XI. When interviewed at the conclusion of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, he was adamant that Loyal should be declared the winner. Heaping praise on his opposition and congratulating them for their efforts, he stated he wouldn’t accept the trophy even if the protest was upheld. What a nice man!

For more information about other competitors in theĀ Rolex Sydney Hobart see the official race website.

Map: Investec Loyal, Constitution Dock Hobart…

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