Sow your Wild Oats

Wild Oats XI off to a flyer

The start of the 68th Sydney to Hobart was fairly orthodox, except for one enormous controversy:

wild thing

Wild Thing, which most betting agencies had as third favourite for the race behind Wild Oats XI and Ragamuffin Loyal, was excluded for failing to provide mandatory documentation detailing recent modifications on the boat. The super maxi was sensationally kicked out of race just hours before the 1pm start on Sydney Harbour.

Why should this be of any interest to readers? It’s in the history of the bad blood between the officials and Wild Thing’s skipper and skippers of other maxis:

Wharington then fired his broadside at race director Tim Cox for his role in the controversy, and referred back to his positions in the controversial protests by the race committee against Investec-Loyal last year and Wild Oats XI in 2010.

‘‘It’s pretty disappointing for us and our team who have worked so hard to get this incredible boat to the position it is now,’’ Wharington said.

‘‘I don’t know if there is any kind of conspiracy going on, but unfortunately this particular race director seems to be serial offender of trying to get big boats out of the race.’’

Reading further into it in the yachting press, this is yet another of the Petty Officials versus The Wild Man. It’s happened in football, rugby, cricket and in fact in all major sports. Tin gods not involved in playing the sport have only one thing to do and that is to apply the rules with rigour and vigour.

What it really comes down to is a clash of mentalities – the pedantic official versus the seat-of-the-pants sailor, a cavalier buccaneer who’ll try anything [within the rules] to win. Officials do not like it – they need nice, neat paperwork in triplicate and don’t give a damn about the excitement of the race or the spectacle.

The result is a boat excluded on the technicality of a bit of legalese wording. The race officials made out documentation had not been received but in fact that documentation had actually been received, the rules had been complied with according to the naval architect who signed it off but the officials wanted the wording in a different form and thus had their excuse to exclude the boat.

That it had been done in a last minute “oh go down to their bloody office and make the buggers happy” did not endear the skipper to the officialdom – and thus a multi-million dollar project was down the drain. Now you might say diddums according to the politics of envy – yes the guy is rich but the viewing public were expecting these exciting machines to actually race – little different to Formula 1 or anything else people look forward to and pay good money to watch.

And this man has been a pioneer, in the vanguard of new advances in sailing technology, having invented all sorts of devices to go faster and in the process, leading to space age materials and construction techniques, let alone fundamental solutions to physics questions.   There is a tradition in Australia of this sort of man – Ben Lexcen was another in 1983 with the “winged keel” and so he is a prime target of the petty-minded.

That there was such an impasse, that the wording could not have been resolved, that phone calls had not been made, that the skipper was banned from speaking at the press conference – that is a blight on the sport and yet another example of how the officials are running sports these days.

And as a person whose unfortunate manner and tone also overshadows what he’s done, I have great sympathy for the cavalier Grant Wharington because it is through such as him that things move forward.   I’d throw in the Guidos, Captain Rantys, Old Holborns and the like under this heading.  We need more of them, not fewer and if they stir things up, then it’s better than George Orwell’s “sleepwalking”.

Just one opinion of course.

4 comments for “Sow your Wild Oats

  1. December 27, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Well always need the nutters, mentally ill, and other weird people. They are the ones that come up with the ideas out of left field that create jumps in our knowledge. Normally we just slowly progress from one idea to another if at all when we stick to the rules and consensus, but every now and then we get a jump and progress rapidly on to newer and better things. It happens in art, science, philosophy, etc.

    • December 27, 2012 at 10:52 am

      Thing George Bernard Shaw had something to say on progress depending on the unreasonable.

  2. Andrew Duffin
    December 28, 2012 at 9:12 am

    What you say about wild men is completely correct, but in this case I am not too sorry that a super-technological money-no-object loads-of-fancy-toys vessel didn’t race.

    After all, it’s supposed to be about the sailing, isn’t it, not about the toys or how much money you can spend?

    It’s stuff like this that has made the Americas Cup unutterably tedious recently.

  3. James Higham
    December 28, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Andrew, you’re right on that and it’s always been the bane of competitive sailing. Most know I’m a wooden boat devotee with traditional rig and would not have a plastic fantastic. Yet classes continue to develop. Perhaps the AM should not be a development class or the S to H – the classic races. The Little America’s Cup, with C Class Cats, is experimental. Horses for courses I suppose.

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