“So, what was your first Hobart like?”

“So, what was it like?”

I’ve been asked this many times off the back of my first Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

The start was unexpectedly quiet. Being inside the exclusion zone and one tier back from the supermaxis, helicopters and pursuing media boats I found surprisingly tranquil.

Our start was slow and sloppy in the light winds and chop at Sydney Heads, made worse by the powerboats heading back to the harbour with a convivial wave, unaware they’d stopped us dead in the water.

It was a relief to escape the washing machine; then there was just us and a few Clipper boats, and open ocean to Hobart.

I can’t say the experience was cold, hard or frightening given the ensuing three days brought warm following winds.

Being on a small ship meant it wasn’t wet like the TP52 crews and other planing boats had it. The only salt water on Kialoa ran down the gunwales as her 45-tonnes pushed out millions of litres of ocean and when the occasional random quarter wave slapped against the hull, sending a spray down the necks of those facing it.

There was that tiny drip through the hatch above my head in my cabin, but I didn’t think I should mention that in the midst of the bar stories describing walls of whitewater gushing over the decks then finding its way below by the bucket full, soaking living spaces and beds.

I couldn’t join in on the conversation about basic accommodation and food either.

There were plenty of warming cups of tea and coffee. Grant or ‘Grunter’ our cook served Devonshire tea and warm scones one afternoon, and the whipped cream had to be smothered quickly before it blew off the jam layer. Ah the perils of offshore racing. There were three homecooked hot meals a day, sugary super dooper ice blocks, homemade cookies, rumballs, a shot of Whisky passing Tasman Light, a roast pork dinner from scratch.

Below deck individual wooden draws held everyone’s clothes and personals and two of the three cabins featured an ensuite.  That’s not to say we showered or changed clothes over the three and a half days, and the gastro that struck down a few of the ship’s crew did quarantine one of the three heads.

It’s not to say there weren’t bruises down the back of the legs or challenges sleeping as the boat constantly pitched and rolled, but for a first Hobart I’m well aware the degree of difficulty was low.

Some of the moments easily recalled are the dolphin escorts, seabirds, moonlight on the water, the funny stories at 1.30am on deck as my shift came to an end. I took note of the calm among the crew when the giant aluminium boom snapped during a gybe on the second day, and the analytical approach to tying it off safely then hoisting alternate cloth.

Meanwhile the conversation in my head went something like this: ”Oh God we are going to Eden? I don’t want to go to Eden on my first Hobart. My bag’s in Hobart and Luke’s going to be in Hobart, and now how will I get there? I’m sure the crew hate me for taking photos at this moment.”

There was never a mention of retirement and the recovery was testament to the incredible seamanship aboard KII. While the breakage certainly hurt our finish time, the forecast never suited a weighty 1960s built displacement boat in terms of our overall result.

Coming across Storm Bay the old girl lit up. We had five sails straining, including the loose-footed mainsail and a 35-degree angle of heel on. A sunset finish with plenty of breeze in the Derwent River was a spectacular way to mark Kialoa II’s return to the bluewater classic the S&S 73 dominated back in ’71. And we were feeling pretty clever finishing well ahead of their course time.


Dallas Kilponen pics.

Following a mass de-fuzzing of moustaches marking the end of the crew’s Movember efforts it was off to quench a giant thirst and numb some of my pain having opened up my knee during a fall on deck at the finish. I’m sporting a scar to prove my race, and clumsiness.

I could have run tours on the hour over the next three days in Hobart, such was the interest in Kialoa II and sailing era it stands for. I stayed on the boat and became a sucker for those who came near enough and demonstrated they knew the tinniest thing about the sport, inviting them onboard to appreciate the beauty and craftmanship within.

‘Would you do it again?’ is the other question I’m asked a lot.

Based on my debut experience it would be hard to find a reason not to.

Article in The Australian Sat December 23.

Video by Dallas Kilponen

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Bring on my Hobart race initiation

My first Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is five days away and a few weekends back, sitting in a life raft with nine blokes in the Qantas training pool with the lights out and cold water spraying in my face everything suddenly became so very real.

The Safety and Sea Survival Course requirement for 50% of the crew for the Cat 1 race is but one of the 1998 Sydney Hobart spin-offs, so while the six deaths were the most heart-breaking way to bring about a change of attitude and in safety standards worldwide, it marked a turning point. There’s not been such an extreme weather event since and neither have any lives been lost either racing or during the delivery back from Hobart.

There’s always been a stirring in the gut around this time of year, an angst for friends and family competing; memories from 1998 and the families who lost husbands, brothers and sons easily recalled. It took a decade after that race for the tears to stop welling when I’d hear Sarah McLachlan’s song ‘Arms of An Angel’, the soundtrack to the epic video ‘Race for Survival’ produced by Network TEN.

At the time I was part of the event media team, six months pregnant with child numero uno and husband Luke and father-in-law Bill were facing winds of 90 knots and mountainous seas aboard Mercedes IV. They and 43 other crews limped across the finish line. Six sailors never picked up their gear bags, had a drink at Customs House and returned home to loved ones.

My debut long bluewater race will be on the mighty 1964-built Kialoa II. The boat arrived in through Sydney Heads on Sunday November 26 having voyaged 15000nms from Plymouth, UK, following its racing baptism under new owners, Paddy and Keith Broughton, in the northern hemisphere’s equivalent of the Hobart – the Rolex Fastnet Race.

On arrival the troops rallied and stripped everything off the boat for the necessary stability inclination and the first training sail happened last weekend without incident. The owners are preparing properly – after each training sail a job list is agreed on among the 18 crew and the trades roll in over the ensuing days to methodically work on and tick off each item.

Sydney, Australia – December 17, 2017: Onboard “Kialoa II” – built in 1964 – during a training session before the Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2017 yachting race. (Photo by Andrea Francolini)

Sydney, Australia – December 17, 2017: Onboard “Kialoa II” – built in 1964 – during a training session before the Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2017 yachting race. (Photo by Andrea Francolini)

Sydney, Australia – December 17, 2017: Onboard “Kialoa II” – built in 1964 – during a training session before the Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2017 yachting race. (Photo by Andrea Francolini)

It’s a grand S&S design, one of four in this year’s race spanning 1930 to 1981 builds. Everything is manually powered via a pair of primary pedestal grinders and 25 other winches, and heavy. The galley’s gimbaled serving table and varnished teak interior are just two among a long list of unique features – there is a lot of info on the boat kindly collated by a previous owner and published on this website.

These black and whites are courtesy of the Kilroy family/Dare to Win.

An S&S took Jessica Watson and Jesse Martin around the world as young record-breakers and I’m certain this battleship is going to get me to Hobart.

The long-range forecast indicates running conditions, a high creating a northerly flow which is great news for everyone in terms of an easier sailing mode and the likelihood of fewere breakages. On handicap our weight at 45 tonnes and hull shape suit a good southerly snotter – we carve through waves rather than slamming into them – so the planing boats will get away this year it seems.

Results are superfluous to me. What matters is I stay safe by following Genevieve White’s rule number one – don’t leave the boat without permission – and for once I’m part of a team, rather than looking from the outside in. Twenty years of trying to fathom the smells and sounds, the marathon of sailor versus ocean via second-hand accounts is about to change. 

Going south with a group of people I admire and trust my life to, being farewelled by the magnificent spectacle of 100,000 people around the harbour foreshore on Boxing Day, and, assuming our race doesn’t go belly-up, the arrival into Hobart will I’m certain be key moments in the overall inexperience.

There is some fear, but it relates to the unknown rather than concern about a tough race. Doubts about the fatigue of four hourly watches over three and a half days of sailing, and the chance of seasickness.

Understanding the frustration of media wanting fresh content from the fleet I’ve committed to reporting separately to a couple of colleagues but mostly I’ll be directing people to the boat’s Facebook page @Kialoa2 to keep media commitments to a minimum and get the rest I’ll need.

Media interest in the boat has been strong given it’s a former line honours winner (1971) originally commissioned by Jim Kilroy, a famous name in sailing circles as the second in his series of Kialoas. And there’s the sentimentality of a classic boat representing a romantic bygone era of boat building and a time when good old-fashioned elbow grease generated the grunt. 

“Real sailing” as someone wrote in a comment on Facebook. Real is good.

Wish me luck as I’m blooded into one of the rarer bucket-list quests.

Support the team’s Movember campaign here.

Sydney, Australia – December 17, 2017: Onboard “Kialoa II” – built in 1964 – during a training session before the Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2017 yachting race. (Photo by Andrea Francolini)

Rolex Sydney Hobart website with yacht tracker to follow the fleet.

Kialoa II website

Sydney, Australia – December 17, 2017: Onboard “Kialoa II” – built in 1964 – during a training session before the Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2017 yachting race. (Photo by Andrea Francolini)

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Opinion: America’s Cup runneth over with blokes

In the Louis Vuitton qualifier series for the 35th America’s Cup we expect the usual wealth beyond all measure on show in Bermuda in terms of team and TV budgets and infrastructure, against the backdrop of the spectating superyacht flotilla. Based on the last two decades of Cup history, I guess we should have anticipated another all-out bloke-fest.

“When it comes to sport, the America’s Cup is at the pinnacle for new technology, but it remains in the dark ages when it comes to gender equality,” says Radio NZ’s Sally Murphy  in the opening paragraph of her piece titled ‘America’s Cup: Where are all the women?’.

Katie Pellew, sister of the America’s Cup Defender skipper James Spithill, who is on the ground in Bermuda posted to her social media on May 31: “Where are all the women??? In the AC Village over the last few days I have seen many friends who are female sailors and fellow female competitors. They are all Olympians, match racing champions and world champions, yet every single one is in a hospitality/PR/officiating role here during the Cup.”

The last time women played an active team role on an America’s Cup boat was back in the mid-1990s. That was more than 20 years ago and the subsequent two decades read like the Bermuda Triangle in terms of women and the Cup.

Now the story continues as we watch the qualifiers for the 35th edition rollout in a class of boat that has precluded women from gaining on board roles, due to the power-to-weight ratio the ACC foiling catamarans demand.  If women are sidelined because they lack the necessary strength then obviously the design suits only half the crew pool, irrespective of talent and experience.

30/05/2017 – Bermuda (BDA) – 35th America’s Cup Bermuda 2017 – Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers Day 2 – America’s Cup Village – Ladies Day

Much more aware thanks to recent articles by Murphy and two-time Olympic champion Shirley Robertson on the subject of why women aren’t competing at the highest levels of the sport, in particular the AC,  I watch the live telecast at sparrows each morning hoping that at some point the commentary team will throw to a female designer, umpire, engineer or sailmaker; in fact any technical expert or decision-maker.  But I’m disappointed.

The qualifying series is commentated by a two-man team in studio with regular throws to their “man on the water” for his expert opinion. From the HF radio talk going on in the background it seems the race officials and umpires are men, and of the six Cup teams all are crewed by men.

Looking at the America’s Cup Event Authority and America’s Cup Race Management list of names, one of the 12 management positions is occupied by a woman. Emirates Team New Zealand told Murphy that five of their 91-strong team (5.5%) are women and reviewing each team’s full list of personnel I see a similar ratio with men dominating management, design, engineering and boat building roles.

Across the six teams there is a small group of women working at board level and in the area of performance and design. So far I haven’t observed the Cup taking the opportunity to even marginally rebalance the gender disparity by adding these women’s professional insight and opinions to the media mix.

Experienced shoreside commentators Genny Tulloch and Gemma Care are doing a great job as event media but where’s the female Olympic gold medallist, match racing world champ or Volvo Ocean Race sailor calling the live racing?

If women don’t have the physical strength for the current AC class then I’d at least expect to see them at the Cup in leadership role or technical capacity, not only in hospitality, marketing and in the AC’s VIP areas wearing white and waving champagne glasses.

The coverage and the competition are technically and visually brilliant and I’m hooked for the next six weeks as the once every four years America’s Cup spectacle unfolds.

For female sailors, umpires, marine architects, designers, mechanical engineers and coaches however, I can’t help feeling that’s little to aspire to given the Cup’s choice of boat for the current and previous two cycles, each team plus the overarching management’s obvious underrepresentation of women and the TV presentation we’ve seen so far.

As a professional sailing journalist of 20 years I’m always looking for ways to find connections between a sport which is inaccessible to most, and the wider world. Demonstrating where possible that sailing is in touch with community values, is multicultural, healthy, egalitarian (that’s a hard one), gender aware (also tough) and environmentally responsible.

It’s early days in the greatest show on water, but for the average viewer it looks like one big expensive bloke-fest.

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A normal day in Rio

We are on the eve of the first gold medal races (Sunday), in the RS:X windsurfers, and there is a buzz around the marina mixed with relief as last of the classes (49er skiffs) finally began their campaign on Friday, day five of the competition – a long wait!

The Olympic Broadcasting Service helicopters have just flown overhead – same time every day, 12:36 – to get into position on the live course which unfortunately hasn’t really delivered the best footage of these Olympic Games. The OBS can’t move production to the outer courses so the stills photographers have been the ones capturing the most dramatic images. Frustrating but the nature of the sport is being at the mercy of the weather.

A normal day at this stage is a late morning arrival, catch up on emails then from 13:05 I watch the TV that has the complete broadcast from the live course (sorry I know this will cause a lot of jealousy back home), and have multiple web pages open.

We’ve had some big days summarising six to eight classes per day and usually interviewing the top two in each class in two different mixed zones. A mixed zone is a long fenced and segregated area where the athletes walk along one side and speak to media in an order that is very carefully managed by a mixed zone manager and their assistants.

Olympic Broadcasting Services (Olympic channel) is first, then the rights holders (paid to be there), then other TV and then at the end the press mixed zone which is for all other media and where the writers wait to speak to the athletes.

We split up our team of three, one recording the OBS interviews but not able to ask questions then we have a roaming person who follows the athletes along the fence to see if they give the ‘killer quote’ to another media outlet, or to interview them ourselves. The third reporter is over at the Flamengo beach mixed zone.

A team of language services staff hang in the background, in case they are needed to translate between the various media outlets and the athlete.

Eight classes use the main mixed zone at the marina and the Nacras and RS:Xs the beach mixed zone, next to the dais where the medal presentations will all happen August 14-18.

Other than my daily review, we produce up to three sets of athlete flash quotes, which are the best comments we select from our interviews to go into the accredited media portal.

I leave Rio in one week and I know I’ve broken the back of my first international event. It is an amazingly rewarding working alongside the sports great writers, photographers and commentators, and my professional confidence at an all-time high.

There was going to be a blog about Brazilian food but really I haven’t put my finger on the essence of their fare apart from incredibly tasty/salty Brazilian meat, empanadas and multiple variations on the pastry pocket, black beans and rice, pizza, pasta, cheesy balls, hamburgers…..

I’ve had no time to do a food tour but would recommend this to anyone planning a visit.

Hope whoever you are following does well in the medal round. Go Aussies.

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Matchy matchy at the Marina da Gloria

First day today at the Marina da Gloria sailing venue (Sunday July 25) dressed in my matchy matchy green green and yellow Olympic shirt, khaki pants that convert to long shorts & green trainers. I even have Rio branded socks.

Gloria is a marina rather than a yacht club with storage, hardstand and launch facilities, huge floating pontoon, ‘mall’ which is where all the boat brokers and dive shops have amazingly fancy shops, athletes eating area and lounge, worker’s eating area (hot lunch everyday) and the temporary media centre under an enormous roof.

Without seeing the other venues surely sailing and rowing (I have to say this because my roomy is the rowing ONS writer) are the two best of the Games, with the friendliest people. My theory is people who work outdoors are the happiest workforce.

Here are some Getty images I found of the marina.

The breeze was in early then as the temperature rose up to the high 20s it dwindled. All day Guanabara Bay looked absolutely magnificent.
I logged into the work portal OK, kept going with my research and met most of the venue press team including the very important mixed zone manager, photo manager, venue manager, deputy venue manager, and so on.

The mixed zone is where the broader media pack gets to speak to the athletes when they come off the water, after the Olympic Broadcast Service and possibly agencies conduct their interviews. I’m allowed into those other areas, as are the two flash quote reporters assigned to sailing, but not to ask questions, only record answers. I’m going to learn a lot about Olympic protocol in the coming weeks.
The working media room is almost ready to welcome up to 50 or so media (quick chair count). When this baby’s in full swing from the 8th it’s going to be jumpin’.

Back at ONS HQ there are documents being created and sent to help me establish a schedule of content and deadlines. Once sailing gets underway it will be 10 days of preliminary rounds rolling into Medal Races until all 10 classes have announced a gold medallist.
The level of experience among the management and sub-editor team is overwhelming. I’m so used to working solo and in small groups that if feels vastly different to have this level of support/expertise behind me. We will write and submit stories through the CMS, they’ll be edited and returned if necessary by whichever subs are on in the 24hr cycle, and have every single fact checked again before they are published to accredited media.

I don’t need to worry about photos, social media and media boats. Only words that make sense to normal people. Unlike back in Aus we aren’t writing finished copy and attaching video links and professionally taken high res images. Only words from which a journo or reporter might decide to do a follow up piece.

Many more steps have been added to my phone health app, mostly from another huge day of walking with Jo from Centro up the Escadaria Selarón to Santa Teresa and back on Friday, meeting up with most of the ONS group along the way. We had one warning from a concerned local about putting Jo’s good camera away after taking pics – motorcyclists have been known to make off with the odd Canon.

Santa Teresa was arty and cool, lots of good restaurants, old-style tram and up high away from the noise and action of the city. As I wrote about on my Facebook page the day turned a totally different direction when back in the city district we spotted a couple of bodies only half wrapped in black plastic lying in the middle of the sidewalk in the early evening on a busy Friday evening after work.

It’s taken me some time to process the sight. It’s not Sydney afterall.

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Rio ramblings

I’m starting to get a sense of the city’s soul just in the kilometers I’ve walked over a couple of days. I judge a city a lot on its cleanliness, which to me demonstrates pride in where you live as well as values and opportunity. Coming from Sydney’s Northern Beaches which is open spaces, clean air, great sanitation and good rubbish programs I know I’m spoiled.

Of course I’ve read all the reports about the pollution and yes there have been some open water channels with extremely offensive smells but the Centro area where I’m based until I move to lively Copacabana smells of popcorn carts and bread shops. It’s an amazing mix of churches, cobblestone alleyways, high rises, six lane main roads and chocolate and peanut sellers on the sidewalk.

Along the waterfront on today’s walk the building program was humming along. It seems one of the major projects is to finish an above ground modern tram network and in the port/Navy district you could walk straight through the tram construction site.

The sounds are of buses and cars honking and braking, people shouting, sirens, the whistle of traffic controllers and church bells tolling. For this island dweller it’s a good chance to get out of the bush and feel part of a city’s energy.

Traffic is bad in the business district and we’ve noticed our trip south to the Main Press Centre is taking longer, from 45 mins in the first few days to an hour and a half yesterday. I think an overwhelming challenge is going to be transporting people around when the numbers peak.

Everywhere there are men (usually) in uniform keeping an eye on things, providing escorts for speeding black cars with tinted windows and now lining the key roads brandishing assault rifles. They are the military while standing on street corners are a different group, wearing red and white uniforms and bullet vests with hand guns strapped to them. Then there are the police who randomly seem to park at the side of the road with their lights flashing – not sure whether they are warning drivers or ready to give chase.

Now that training is done we have been pushed from the nest and each ONS writer is waiting for their venue to open to get started on digging up news stories in time for July 25th, when the main ONS website goes live.

I’ve now met my venue manager and can’t wait to get started as I’m feeling more like a tourist than a worker ready to turn myself over to this major event. Yesterday was spent trawling the sailing entry list and following athletes’ social media feeds plus the major news outlets’ feeds.

The value of Twitter has always been questionable to me (so gen X) and it seems sailors are HUGE Facebook users so I’ve always gone with that medium, but now I’m relaxing into the idea of switching between feeds. Before my walk today I still grabbed a street map, and it felt good circling the museums and sights I wanted to see and making notes on the side.

Being here a few days, not speaking Portuguese and being employed by the Olympic organizers means I’ve only had conversations with those the supporters of Rio staging the Games. I like to be fair minded so I did some reading, to have a more rounded view.

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