Wild Thing axed from Sydney to Hobart

Wild Thing owner-skipper Grant Wharington was ‘‘absolutely devastated’’ after hearing of his yacht’s exclusion from the Sydney to Hobart race and took aim at Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) commodore Howard Piggott and race director Tim Cox after a late bid to have the decision overturned failed.

The super maxi was sensationally kicked out of race just hours before the 1pm start on Sydney Harbour.

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 removal of Wild Thing was decided by the race committee on Wednesday morning.

After learning of the race committee’s decision when he boarded Wild Thing at Birkenhead Point, Wharington and his crew sped to the CYCA in Rushcutter’s Bay and spent just over half an hour in consultation with the race committee to hear their case.

Wharington also made one last pitch for permission to race. As he met with the committee, his crew waited outside the CYCA - many of them dressed in wet weather sailing gear and ready to be rushed back on tenders to Wild Thing that had left its mooring in readiness for a late reprieve.

‘‘We are absolutely devastated to be told at the 11th hour that we are unable to race to Hobart,’’ Wharington told media. ‘‘Would you believe that we have been offered the ability to race down - or sail down - the course and we can go in on the radio skeds and leave the tracker on which is an insult.

‘‘We are a bit stuck for words as to why it has happened in this situation. We have provided the documentation. I have got it in my hand.

‘‘We were given an approval on Wednesday [that] we were able to go and subsequently withdrawn, so we are obviously devastated by the news.’’

In a statement released earlier on Wednesday, Piggott said the race committee "would not be accepting the entry of the boat Wild Thing as a result of non compliance with a notice of race, in particular notice of race 4.1 dealing with documentation to be lodged for verification of construction requirements".

"The race committee has worked with the owner of the boat, Grant Wharington, to allow him up to three hours prior to the start of the race to provide the documentation required, however this has not been forthcoming. The race committee has no option but to not accept the entry of Wild Thing," Piggott said.

Piggott said the issue related to recent modifications that have been made to Wild Thing, and the subsequent need for Wharington to provide statements from both the designer and the builder "which confirms that they respectively designed and built the boat in accordance with ABS [American Bureau of Shipping] guide."

However, Wharington maintains that the questioned documentation was up to scratch, and when asked where the miscommunication came from said: ‘‘It’s all in the wording. What the requirement is that the design has to be signed off by a naval architect.

"The original design was done by a Melbourne engineer and he claims to have not done the final design, so that’s why we engaged a naval architect to actually provide a report on the boat which says it was assessed and approved as the requirements under the race rules is that the design has to be ... done in accordance with ABS.

"And the wording here on this report says quite simply that [the] ’information provided and the assessment undertaken, the modification falls within the minimum scope of the ABS guide.’ So the wording is pretty simple in our opinion that it falls within the guide.

‘‘Does it pull short of saying ’it is designed in accordance with the guide?’ It’s all in the words. I’m not quite sure. I’m dumbfounded.

‘‘The [CYCA] commodore [Piggott] denied me the opportunity to appear at a [press] conference I understand at 10 o’clock his morning ...

‘‘I wasn’t invited. But we invited him to come here [at his media call at the CYCA] as well and he is obviously out drinking champagne.’’

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.’’

There had been rumours all week about Wild Thing's status, and speculation increased on Christmas Eve when Cox said at the race briefing that Wild Thing still "owed" him "heaps" of overdue paperwork.

Wild Thing, one of four fancied maxis vying for line honours in the 68th edition of the race, has not raced since undergoing a number of modifications with no one quite sure how fast the refurbished yacht is.

For this year's race, Wharington widened the stern of Wild Thing and extended the boat length by two feet.

The black-hulled Wild Thing has also been equipped with new titanium standing rigging and sails.

Wharington, one of the event's more charismatic figures, is accustomed to Sydney to Hobart drama - before and during the race.

His quest for speed has led him to becoming a pioneer in the sport, where a campaign can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars simply to maintain a yacht, let alone modify it.

Wharington was one of the first to use canting keels, and he suffered for it in 2004 when his boat lost its keel and capsized in Bass Strait. He was then pivotal behind the use of electric winches that virtually made grinders redundant on board, or at best in urgent need of upskilling.

In the 2010 Sydney to Hobart start, Wharington's Wild Thing collided with a media boat, but was able to continue sailing.

Owner-skipper of Wild Thing, Grant Wharington. Photo: JACKY GHOSSEIN

Owner-skipper of Wild Thing, Grant Wharington. Photo: JACKY GHOSSEIN