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