Hobart - First-time Sydney to Hobart winner Investec Loyal celebrated in earnest on Thursday after an international racing jury upheld its nailbiting line honours victory over favourite Wild Oats XI.
The 100-foot supermaxi was formally crowned winner of the 628-nautical mile bluewater classic after a five-nation jury dismissed a race committee protest that it had received outside assistance.
"It's very relieving to actually get to this point," said visibly emotional Loyal skipper Anthony Bell after the ruling.
"There's rules in every sport and I suppose, while it wasn't ideal to have to go through this, I think that ultimately it gets (the result) beyond any question."
The protest, centred on claims that Loyal had gained an unfair advantage by asking a media helicopter crew what sail five-time winner and current race record holder Wild Oats XI was flying, overshadowed the thrilling race finish.
Loyal had never been far from Wild Oats' tail, and it crossed the line just three minutes and eight seconds ahead after gaining on the veteran race favourite during the final stretch to Hobart.
It was the fourth-fastest result in the race's 67-year history, and a sweet victory for Bell, who was runner-up in 2010 and long a rival of Wild Oats.
Bell was confident heading into the hearing and said the jury had "made a point of saying that they didn't think there was any advantage" gained from tactician Michael Coxon's conversation with the chopper crew.
Coxon had made Wild Oats' sails and Bell said the jury had accepted that he was not seeking any advantage for Loyal by asking after its rival but was simply curious about how his handiwork had withstood the rough first night.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia chief Garry Linacre said he was "very glad" about the jury's decision to uphold Loyal's win in a time of two days, six hours, 14 minutes and 18 seconds.
"It's wonderful to see that the Investec Loyal crew led by Anthony have come out of this race the winners after sailing in such a magnificent manner," he told reporters.
He dismissed suggestions that the committee was being overzealous with its protests, having similarly challenged Wild Oats XI's line honours win last year due to an alleged rule breach that ultimately failed.
"We will continue to keep the governance of this sport at the highest level," Linacre said.
"The Rolex Sydney Hobart yacht race is renowned for that... particularly in the keeping of the rules and also safety."
The race for handicap honours, which takes into account each boat's dimensions, age and other factors, was ongoing, with Wild Rose in the lead late Thursday.
Bell said he was looking forward to properly celebrating his "against-the-odds" win over Wild Oats, which he described as a "great moment that got cut short".
"I'm still waiting for one of my crew members to wake me up and say 'You're on watch, get up' ... The buzz is made best by the fact that Oats is such a fantastically run campaign," he said.
"It's one of those great experiences you only get once in every three lifetimes," he added.
Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards had earlier said he would not accept a jury room victory because Loyal had deserved to win.
"It was a great race, great for the sport and we take our hats off to the Loyal boys, they did a great job," Richards said.
"They're an honourable bunch of guys, they won in the water fair and square and that's all that really needs to be said here."