Oh man, am I nervous, I have just taken us 45 miles off the coast, quickly, or relatively quickly, in Hobart terms. Our Internet is gone and we haven’t had our sked yet. To the best of my knowledge we are the ONLY yacht out here! Oh boy!
Our weather information man says we are right - keep the throttle open and send it South - now!
So as the sun falls into the west, dinner is served on board. I can’t remember what we had that night - maybe it was a baked dinner? I am pretty sure it was served up by Kevin, our one-armed cook/ driver/all-round-good-guy.
Anyway, the weather is fair and the boat is rolling along quite nicely. Of course, the big guys have shot through, but no one is really interested in them anyway. I would give my eye-teeth to know where the rest of the fleet are.
Kirk Watson, our visually impaired skipper, has the boat and crew in good order and ready for the night. This is MWF’s first attempt with a new skipper. The term skipper, and what it means, always fascinates me. Probably, it means a manager, with an understanding of the boat and the crew’s ability to use the equipment. It is true that on our MWF boat, not everyone can do everything - but the success of our boat is that we get everything done.
With Jervis Bay abeam, we head south and into the darkness. The driving team consists of David Leslie, Bridget Canham, Mark Thomson, and Kevin Moore, ably supported by trimmers Gary Donovan, George Johnston, and Albert Lee, with Kirk as skipper. Doubling up on the main served us well this night.
You cannot imagine the level of curiosity as the crew picked up a set of navigation lights behind us, green red red green etc. Right on our stern. Maybe it was one of the big Clippers?
As the sky got lighter and turned into the morning pink, I was reminded of why I love sailing and the ocean.
A funny thing about the Hobart Race or any ocean race, is the mixture of experiences.
Take the frantic lead up…
We had found a split fuel tank four days before the Boxing Day start, and the HF radio refused to work. The absolute madness of trying to prepare a yacht race around Christmas Day is like a script from Monty Python.
But now, with the sun dragging itself into the eastern sky and the boat rising and falling to each wave, well, it’s magic.
But who the hell is that boat behind us?
They are catching us that’s for sure. Someone with young eyes says it’s Celestial. They have had a very bad night or maybe we have had a very good night. I would pay anything for a sat phone or Internet connection right now! Anyway, the skeds up and now we know we brained them - a great night!! So it is with that knowledge that we fight all day down to Eden in light airs along the green Cape line.
Everything is goo
So the Skipper gives the instruction to radio through to race control and say we entering Bass Strait in good order. I cannot remember, but I think it was around 5pm.
We were rolling into Bass Strait with a comfortable sea and wind, when Cathy Josling woke me up.
“There is a vibration I can feel David - it’s intermittent.”
I think this was the first time I had got to sleep since leaving Sydney, and I must admit, my response was less than cordial! But Cathy was right. It was there.
On deck, I discussed the possibilities with the skipper. It was not the rudder or the keel. It felt like it was coming up through the sail drive. Maybe we had picked up something around the prop?
A quick test proved that everything was operational there, but we could still feel the vibration.
We were 30-40 miles SE of Eden with a forecast 30 knot Northerly coming in behind us, so we needed to understand our situation quickly.
There was only one thing for it. Someone had to go over the side. It’s black. We asked for volunteers. I might have guessed - up goes Rob Sealey’s arm.
“I’ll do it.”
With a waterproof torch in his mouth and safety lines attached, he disappeared into the darkness under the hull, then returned to the side of the boat, spluttering after removing the torch from his mouth, and telling us,
“I think there is a loose anode on the sail drive. I want to go back and check the prop again.”
10 minutes later, Rob was safely on board and confirming we had a loose anode - no big deal, and certainly not going to impede the performance of the boat or its safety. I have sailed with Sealey for nearly 30 years now, through many adventures, and he is so good to be around.
Our skipper orders us to hoist the sails and we are back in the race. Bowman Brad Allen, hooks the jib up and we are on our way again. Tony Purkiss, ably supported by David D'annunzzio, does the mast. What a great seaman Tony Purkiss is, with an understanding of the ocean and his situation, way beyond his years. Like Kirk, he is visually impaired, and I wonder if this has anything to do with their skill levels.
Anyway, back to the job. The wind is now firmly in the North and the 1.5oz spinnaker has been hoisted and is doing its job. This sail does not stay up long as the wind freshens to above 25 knots and it’s time to get it off and go to a hounds Asymmetric. This is a tricky manoeuvre especially when the boat is travelling along at 20 knots.
It went off without mishap in no small part due to Cathy Josling controlling the halyards etc. So with the hound's Asymmetric poled back, we are racing for Eddystone Light.
Everything still going well..
Then 'Ooops!' all of a sudden we are on our side - a full round up! Storm drop.
Spinnaker down, and our skipper calls for a poled-out headsail and a double-reef main. The boat is far more manageable under this rig and it showed good seamanship by Kirk.
I must admit at this point I am a bit worried about the impending SWer and how far south this rig will allow us to get. I would like us to make Eddystone Light, but in reality I think it will be closer to Barren Island. There is one thing for sure - Kayle will handle it. I love sailing this boat.
As predicted, WHACK, 25 -30 knots from the South-West comes. We are just laying Tasman Light and making 8-8.5 knots so that’s not too bad. Dinner has just been served. I do like this navigation role (it’s warm and dry) and I get to see a whole different side of things. How much work some of the crew put in downstairs is amazing.
It’s funny how sometimes you don’t see what is in front of you or what you are part of. A little 19-year-old girl with Spina Bifida had just been helped down off deck; soaking wet but warm. With the bow rising and falling two meters every ten seconds, the boat shut up, humidity 150 %, she looked at me as if to say,
‘You didn’t tell me about this bit.’
Her first words were,
“How far to go”?
To which I replied with the standard parent answer,
“We will be there soon.”
I thought telling her 18 hours was a bit long. Though it went through my mind:
‘Where does her confidence come from? How powerful is the human spirit? How glad I am to be here and share this.’
I could not but help admire her bravery, her confidence in her crew, and I won’t say how many times she asked me
“Are we there yet?”
Needless to say, we crawled around Tasman Light with a bit of moon showing it off, then across to the Rhoul and the Iron Pot. At about 7am, struggling up the Derwent with Robert Speedy doing a great job calling a fickle breeze for David Leslie at the helm, Kirk turned to Grace and said,
“It’s your boat girl. Steer us over the line.”
Kayle swung her nose up and finished the 2013 Rolex Sydney to Hobart in good order and with a good crew. With a new skipper and a brilliant future.
On behalf of the crew, and to all those people who put their face on the boat and who took part in our journey - THANK YOU. I hope this story helps explain our purpose.
We are already planning this year’s event and would like to see you all on board again. For those up the front, we will try to make the weather a little smoother.
To our sponsors XYLEM, RFD and Brokenwood THANK YOU for being Creators of Optimism and for making dreams come true.
Our crew is a mixture of disabled and abled bods and you never know which is what - and nobody seems to care. What a wonderful world.
Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time, everywhere?
Faceboat Making Waves Foundation Navigator