And the other half of the author of “Diary of a Sailing Widow” (below) files his report. Well done!
The Sydney to Hobart yacht race is, well, a bit odd. It’s a race that drags its competitors away from the family Christmas festivities to undertake a high risk pastime in a notoriously dangerous location. All thoughts of sharing quality time with your significant other, parents and siblings are replaced with a selfish activity that allows no room for such distractions. As for goodwill to all men, forget it. It’s a race, for fucks’ sake, where you seek to extract every advantage on offer.
It is generally the only time that sailing makes it into the mainstream media offerings, catching the public’s attention for a few shorts days (with the exception of Jessica Watson, who got weeks). Ninety percent of boats, however, will never be mentioned in a media release, as line honors, celebrity crew and unfolding potential for carnage are the only focus.
Our race started around a year ago with the purchase of a Beneteau First 45 from the UK. Renamed Victoire, it was one of three to come off the French production line with a carbon rig and up-spec clutches and winches. Since then there’s been an exhaustive process of crew selection, practice, refinement, upgrading and preparation. By comparison, the actual Rolex Sydney to Hobart race start was a doddle. Pin end start on the second line, kite up, shy reach across the fleet before two sail reaching to the turning mark. A clean rounding well ahead of our competition has everyone feeling positive.
The first afternoon had us on port reach down the coast of New South Wales in 10-12 knots; perfect cruiser racer weather. Light enough that the full out carbon racers can’t get up and boogey but enough breeze to push us along at hull speed. This is what Beneteaus are made for. We’re not is the Med but we may as well be. The anticipated and well reported front (read: media beat up) arrived at around 6 pm with 20-25 knots from the south. It was pretty skinny, only lasting a couple of hours, and provided us with some early in-line jib changes plus reefing practice. Even though less than expected, we still experienced our first breakage with out fractional halyard breaking at the sheave point.
The real action didn’t commence until 24 hours into the race. A trough following the front produced winds of 35 knots plus on the coast and up to 50 knots in Bass Strait. These were the "classic" Hobart conditions everyone was expecting. Wet, cold and yet brilliant sunshine, the kind of thing sailing photogs love (and Carlo Borlenghi shot his life’s best work –ed). Airborne maxis, underwater IOR boats and cruiser racers with two reefs and a storm jib slugging away; still doing hull speed. Contrary to popular belief, this is also perfect cruiser/racer weather. As the big boats slow to conserve, the little boats get bullied by the large and erratic seaway, and we keep plugging away under reduced sail with very little stress on the boat and crew. In these conditions we can exceed our polars and over the next 12 hours we steal a march on our direct competition.
The contrast of the following day couldn’t be greater. An easterly breeze of 10-15 knots and sunshine allowed us to play with our new Code 0 for a few hours. Productions boats such as ours tend to be designed to focused on windward/leeward courses so we’ve had to be creative to improve our reaching. The continuing radio scheds show us holding our position in the fleet and so the investment proves to have been worth it. Even in these benign conditions we don’t escape another breakage. Our lightweight symmetrical kite gives up with a whimper after pulling us through the remnants of the southerly swell for a few hours. Repair efforts turn out to be futile.
Over the next 24 hours we get our 15 minutes of fame. Leading overall on IRC and ORCi, it’s time for the team pep talk and to get focused on closing out the race. We all, however, are very aware that we still have to get around Tasman Island, across Storm Bay and up the Derwent River. Our ETA at Tasman is 5 pm, which doesn’t bode well for consistent breeze. It could all still go well and truly to shit and, as luck might have it, it surely does.
We park for 3 hours prior to Tasman Island only for the breeze to fill in from the nor’west for the remainder of the trip leaving us with a 10-20 knot beat to the finish. A final park up 2 miles from the line only adds to the frustration. We’re the 21st finisher, 5th overall on IRC and we win our IRC and ORCi divisions. Reflecting on this, if you had offered me this result pre-race I would have gladly taken it.
So, yes, the Sydney to Hobart yacht race is a bit odd. It has its dangers and challenges but would it really be such a popular event if it was easy? It is also admittedly hard on our families but I know I finish the race less likely to take these relationships for granted. As for friends, some of the strongest bonds come from a tough race. And yes, the media in general will continue to report exclusively on line honors results and carnage, but is this really going to stop us coming back next year?
Well done to Geoff Boettcher and the crew of Secret Men’s Business 3.5; a win well deserved. As for me, I hear they’re going to run another Sydney to Hobart yacht race again next year. I guess I’ll just have to have another go.