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Sydney to Hobart Race blog of a first time rookie

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

First time Sydney to Hobart Race blog found amongst the archives! This is the diary of rookie race crew Claire in one of her first big offshore races – the Sydney to Hobart 2004. Since this race GlobalYacht Racing  Marketing Director Claire has done a few more offshore races and regattas and Global Yacht Racing has gone from strength to strength and entered many more crews  in the Hobart Race on various yachts. However, Claire has not yet taken part in another  Sydney Hobart, although she doesn’t rule it out! It still gives a good insight into what racing in this epic race is like for an inexperienced crew member.

26th Dec. 11:00 2004

I’ve seen the start of the Sydney to Hobart Race twice before from the Manly ferry and on neither occasion did I wish to be one of the brave heading south. Now, here I am, the only girl on the sixteen strong crew of the  60 foot race yacht Eureka II, and with the weather forecast for this 60th anniversary race being hailed as the worst since 1998, I am beginning to wish that I had chosen one of those two “easier” years to do my first Hobart.

Some want to do the Sydney to Hobart Race because of its reputation, because they want to know what it is really like to see towering seas, powerful winds and be awed by the power of nature. Others want to be part of an exclusive club, to be one of the “how many have you done?” boys. Or perhaps others crave the sense of achievement, a sense of pride in completing an extraordinary race requiring endurance, courage, teamwork and above all seamanship. I want to do this race simply because I am frightened of it and I’m hoping that the reality of taking a battering in the Bass Straits is not as terrifying as my wild imagination has lead me to believe.

Eureka II is a Sydney 60 chartered by UK Company, Global Yacht Racing, and for most of the crew this will also be a first Hobart, each having our own very individual reasons for wanting to take on this ultimate sailing challenge. We’ve been training and preparing the boat for the last two weeks and finally we are all here right at the heart of the action at the CYCA on Boxing Day morning for the start of the Sydney to Hobart Race.

26th Dec 15:00

What a blur! It seems like one long rush on a huge indrawn breath since we paraded past the committee vessel with our storm gear up, to jostling on the line alongside Nicorette, hurtling down the harbour and now, kites up and we’re surfing at 10kn plus – exhale! Wow!

26th Dec 18:00

First off-watch

Shannan and I have bagged two aft bunks tucked under the port side of the cockpit and as we each climb in, I feel kind of like a kid on a school camping trip. It seems strange to be trying to sleep while it is still light, but I can appreciate the importance of getting settled into the watch system as early as possible, three hours on and then three hours off.

26th Dec 21:00

I have actually been asleep, pre-start nerves and excitement lulled by the soporific hiss of foam racing along Eureka’s hull as we power downwind. I smile and wonder how fast we are sailing as I feel the boat lift onto a large swell and accelerate down the face of it. Skipper has heated the lamb curry, so I’m going to eat with the guys before going up for my first watch of the race.

24:00

It was a beautiful moonlit watch, the boat humming along in the 20-25knt breeze   under the brand new 0.9 oz spinnaker. Those of us not trimming or driving settled into some quiet chat on the rail, punctuated by exclamations of encouragement when the helm got on a good surf. Davo guided Eureka onto a great wave and we hit 19.5knots, beating the previous watch’s speed record for the race with great satisfaction.

Before coming off watch it clouded over and a tiny trickle of apprehension runs through my stomach as once again I remember the front that we are racing towards and that is doubtless racing towards us. It’s a strange feeling to be knowingly and willingly heading into bad weather whilst the conditions seem so deceptively idyllic now. Maybe by my next watch we will be frantically tearing down the kite and beginning the long bash into the wind.

27th Dec 03:00 to 06:00

It’s all exactly as expected. I have just been up on the coach roof hauling in armfuls of spinnaker and stuffing it unceremoniously down the hatch as the wind swung round to the south. We quickly settled into a different rhythm, the boat now working harder as we slog steadily upwind. This is it then, free ride over.

Later:

The wind is increasing. We’ve reefed the mainsail already so now it’s time to change the headsail from the no.3 to the no.5. The wind is gusting over forty knots and so there is no time for a headsail peel, we simply have to get the sail off.

After the headsail change:

During the foredeck manoeuvres we have ripped two sails. The leech of the no.3 ripped on the way down, and then putting the no.5 up we tore the boltrope out of the luff. I went onto the foredeck to help Mike, Tibor and Shane as they struggled with the no.3 when it begun to come apart. Struggling to get a sail tie around the clew end of the sail I was frustrated at how uncoordinated our efforts were. Then I realised that not one of us could hear the other even though we were all trying to communicate with shouts, the wind simply tore our words up along with the sails and threw them into the gale. Eventually we got the ripped sails off the deck and hoisted the storm jib. We are all a bit deflated now as we realise that our performance is compromised.

27th Dec 0600

Wet and exhausted, I sit quietly on the side deck amazed at how much energy the last half an hour has just taken out me. I’m wondering what the plan is now that two most useful sails in our wardrobe are out of action. Feeling annoyed with myself that I’m so weak I realise that this is only the beginning, we have a long way to go and things will definitely get harder than this.

27th Dec 0800

More sail damage! We have now got a problem with the mainsail. After putting in the second reef we noticed a tear just above the first reef point. It was decided that we should leave it for a bit because it didn’t seem that the damage could get any worse in its position. However, shortly after going off watch there was a call from above, “we have to get this mainsail off now or it’s game over for it!” I began to struggle into my foul weather gear with the boys but was told not to bother, as only two of the strongest lads were needed. This is the first time they’ve treated me any differently for being a girl and strangely enough I’m too relieved not to be going up on deck again to care!

27th Dec 16:00

We are not sitting out on the rail any more, during our watches those of us not driving are huddling in the cockpit just waiting for the nine metres waves to break over us. It’s amazing how heavy the water is when half a ton of wave pours over your head and back, every now and then a big one breaks and the cockpit fills up with sea before slowly draining.

28th Dec 03:25

I am feeling really sick now. I’m sure that I haven’t drunk enough water and now there is nothing left in my stomach. I’m lying on my bunk feeling dreadful, with my trusty bucket at the ready. Andy seems quite worried about me and I just looked up over the rim of the bucket to meet Mal’s mischievous smile, “you know what’s going to sort you out?” he joked. I grimace because I know that the remedy he is talking about is a Stemetil suppository. I can just imagine the kind of humour that is going to generate amongst fifteen blokes.

28th Dec 04:00

A huge wave just knocked three of the guys off the rail. I was woken by the crash as they all piled painfully into the cockpit one on top of each other. Chris has really hurt his foot but the others are all right, just another example of the power of the raging seas.

28th Dec 06:25

In spite of constantly being sick, mercifully I don’t feel too dizzy and I’m still able to appreciate some of the amazing things going on around me. During my earlier watch I darted down to the lee rail, to bring up the two biscuits that I ate half an hour before. As I hung my head over the deck a wave spilled gracefully into the cockpit sending a shower of darting sparkles across the fibreglass. I paused in my retching to watch the beauty of the phosphorescence and was struck with the paradox of loving and hating this experience in exquisitely equal amounts.

Whilst I am trying to write this it sounds horrendous on deck. The boat is slamming and jumping around and after some waves there is around three seconds of free fall as the bow crashes to the trough. I am really lucky to be in one of the aft bunks as I think it is probably terrible in the bow.

In one heart-wrenching lurch the boat rolled and slid sideways as a massive wave crashed us over broadside on to the swell, skewing us around and rolling the boat violently. I could hear the sound of masses of water rushing across the deck and cockpit and then a deluge of water poured on top of me in my bunk. I sat up startled because I couldn’t imagine where it came from, and I was convinced that water had cascaded in through the companionway. Tracing the drips, I have discovered with dismay that the little hatch into the cockpit, just above my bunk, is leaking. It had been sealed shut with silicon like all the hatches prior to our departure, but I don’t think that we can expect any of them to stand up to the incredible water pressure that they are being forced under. Typical! I had very carefully removed my mid layer of clothing and folded into my locker before getting into my nice dry bunk in my thermals to write this and now my sleeping bag and thermals are destined to be wet for the rest of the race.

Andy has discovered that there is loads of water in the forward compartment. It looks as though it is coming from in front of the bulkhead where the holding tank is. Mal has climbed into the hatch from the bow, I can’t imagine what the stomach turning stench is like! Apparently, the big steel tank has been dislodged from its mountings and some of the connecting hoses have come off. It is also pounding into the fibreglass hull and could have holed us if we hadn’t noticed.

In spite of the howling wind the guys are all in great spirits on deck, every now and then someone comes out with the daft phrase “There we were, in the ocean…” and we all find it really amusing for some reason. It’s strange the little things that make a difference at sea, people always imagine that ocean racing is all about macho strength, endurance and hardship, but actually it’s the teamwork that brings it all together. When you’re feeling like retreating deep into the hood of your foulies, hunching over against the constant stinging spray and brooding on just how miserable it is to tolerate even another half an hour on deck someone giving you a little smile, handing you a cup-a-soup or simply making a daft joke somehow makes it all a little bit easier.

29th Dec 1015

The wind is now easing and it is really frustrating that we are still having to sail with the storm trysail. It means that we can’t point as high as we would otherwise and we are not making as much ground south as possible. The boat is not well balanced as we are sailing with the trysail and the no.4. I was helming earlier and found it really frustrating not being able to feel the groove and having to compromise by sailing purely on the readings of the instruments to get the best speed and wind angle possible. I now really admire Scotty, Davo, Andy, Micko and Benny who have stoically helmed for hours through the huge seas we’ve been battling for the last couple of days, it’s really difficult!

29th Dec 1230

It’s now time to repair the mainsail. Shannan has been sitting below patiently stitching the torn headsails and now the conditions are right to get working on the main. Shannan, a rigger by trade, has a lot of experience working on boats and has been an instrumental part of the crew during the Global Yacht Racing training period in Sydney and is a fantastic member of the Eureka II crew. He is now on deck directing the repair work. First step was making a little tent over the sail with the cockpit awning to protect it whilst he worked on it and dried it. We had some left over stickyback from the branding of the mainsail with the Global Yacht Racing logo which they’re using. The kettle is being passed up on deck to heat the sail and every now and then the cry “heat,” is taken up by everyone in a daft chorus.

When I was feeling really rotten and being really hard on myself for having missed some of my watches during the night, the guys were all so nice to me. Every time I dragged myself on deck one of them would smile and cry, “Here she is!” It always made me feel glad that I had crawled from my damp pit of heaving hell.

29th Dec

We’re well into the last third of the race now, heading down the coast of Tasmania. The wind is still blowing from directly where we want to go, so frustrating considering that we still can’t risk putting the mainsail up until we’re sure that it’s not going to get damaged again. It seems like we’re nearly there but Robbo has just assured us that we’ve still got 120nm to go. I’m still being sick and now feeling a bit wobbly, the talk on deck has turned to the massive party that will kick off in Hobart and everyone is looking forward to a big piss up!

30th Dec 1025

The east coast of Tasmania is really beautiful, we can see Tasman Island now and there are a good handful of other boats surrounding us, reminding us that we are still racing. The wind has gone fairly light and shifty and everyone on deck is trying to spot wind corridors and patches. The decision was made to tack out away from the headland so as not to get trapped in current with no wind, but it’s worrying to think that if the sea breeze doesn’t kick in we will be left wallowing further out than everyone else.

30th Dec 11:35

Finally we have popped the kite and it feels fantastic to know that we will be at the finish line before this afternoon. We are neck and neck with Prowler coming up the river and it is exciting to have a little bit of competition.

When I imagined what it would be like doing the Sydney to Hobart Race, I completely forgot about the finish, which of course is the best bit! We’ve just arrived on a beautiful sunny day and as we motored past the entrance to the dock there was a cheering crowd of people leaning over the railings, stretching out their hands to wave and beaming welcome with big smiles and shouts. I suddenly felt really self-conscious as I tied a fender over a stanchion because there seemed to be hundreds of curious faces all peering down at us from the sea wall. There were a number of people taking photos of us and it was then that I realised that we had just done something that both sailors and non-sailors considered an amazing achievement.

Half way through the race Ben and I were struggling into our wet foulies and boots as the bow of the boat slammed violently up and down, pitching us dangerously around the forepeak. I remember muttering darkly about how much I hated sailing, why on earth I had decided that this would be a good idea, what a ridiculous pastime it was and ranting on and on as we lurched and jarred over wave after wave. I desperately told myself to try and hold onto those feelings, etch into my memory the pain of the bruises, the nausea, the exhaustion and the constant tensing of every muscle required simply to put my boots on in order to be able to remind myself how I never wanted to go through it ever again. In that moment I decided that I loathed offshore racing and I wanted to hold those raw emotions fresh in my mind as a deterrent to doing it again. But who was I trying to kid! I knew even then in my heart that in spite of it all I would want to come back.

Sure enough just a couple of hours after stepping off the boat and beginning to feel less dehydrated and weak I’m already thinking about how I can improve my personal performance for next year, how I can develop my strength and stamina and how I can become a better racer. I always thought that I would be content with simply experiencing this great ocean race, finding out for myself the stuff that legends are made of, doing it just the once to be able to say “I’ve been there”. However, I’ve discovered that underneath the layers of legend, awe and rhetoric, the Sydney to Hobart is still just a yacht race, a competition of sailing skill, navigation and seamanship; and now I want the chance to improve  and help build a great team for Global Yacht Racing in the 2005 race. I’ve realised why people come back year after year to compete, it’s because of just that; to compete, to strive to improve upon last year’s performance, to get a faster time or a better placing, and because we think we’ve learned from our mistakes.

 A big Thank-you to Eureka Sailing Adventures, Robbo and Mal. Thank-you to the Aussie legends at the back for driving tirelessly. Shannan, you were great. Cheers Chris. Thanks to the Global Yacht Racing crew for your fantastic efforts and a big well done to the whole crew of Eureka II.

Global Yacht Racing provides adventurous individuals with world wide racing opportunities. To find out how to join a team racing in high profile ocean races such as the Rolex Middle Sea Race, the Fastnet or competing in great regattas like Skandia Cowes Week and Ford Cork Week visit www.GlobalYachtRacing.com  e-mail info@globalyachtracing.com

Quotes from the boat: 

“You know what this reminds me of? This is just like the 2004 Hobart race, you know, when we were racing to Hobart on Eureka II!” Micko 2004

“All I can think of is the piss-up at the end of it!” Chris 2004

Chris – “It was everything and more than I expected”

Tibor “I always dreaded the headsail change during the night, I was so unlucky that Shannan was on the shift after me because at watch change he would always come on deck and want to change the headsail.”

“I was disappointed with how quickly I ran out of energy, by the end of it I felt as though my batteries were completely empty”

“People have been e-mailing me saying, “ hope you have had fun with your sailing trip” Laughed Tibor, “But this is anything but a sailing trip, and no-one can understand this until you have done it for yourself”

Ben – “Doing the Hobart has been on my list for seven years. What’s great about the Hobart is that is one of Australia’s greatest sporting events of the year. When I first saw the start, I thought – what’s that? That looks interesting and I want to do it.”

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