26th December - Boxing Day…..I (Mike) arrived at CYCA around 8am and straight onto the boat to complete final repairs, bring on board provisions of food and water (comprising basic ingredients for bacon & eggs roll breakfasts, chicken wrap and/or left over “Turducken” wraps for lunch and lasagne/shepherd’s pie dinners). Variations on the menu (there weren’t many) included apples & oranges, cuppa soups and noddles. Further variation was to drown whatever we eating with Tabasco sauce. Indeed, our Watch became known as the Tabasco shift! (brought on board by Karoline). A real treat throughout the trip (particular at night) were “snakes” for the sugar hits and chewing gum just to try and feel a little refreshed.
Helsal was lucky enough to have her hull cleaned on Boxing Day morning by a diver, enabling a “clean friction free” start. Boxing Day at CYCA is quite hectic, colourful and exciting with crew mixing in with friends and family along with other crew, media and officials. The final order of business was a crew photo and farewells to friends and family. We were one of the last to leave with last minute adjustments to steering required (remember this is a 29 year old yacht), and we eventually departed the dock just before midday (in preparation for a 1pm start).
Once out on the water, there are several housekeeping matters to attend to. We had to host an orange trysail and orange storm sail, both needed in stressed conditions if the mainsail or boom is lost for whatever reason. In addition, we had to sail past a CYCA committee boat to “check in” and advise final numbers on board (which was 16 for us). One of the quirky rules of racing requires one to finish with the same number on board as at the start. Then it’s down to business with the skipper ordering the mainsail to go up along with a No.2 genoa, anticipating 10-15 knots winds for the start.
The 15-20 minutes leading up to the start is very hectic with 94 competing yachts jostling for the best position. There were three start lines this year (normally only two), with the big 100’ maxi’s like Wild Oats, Loyal and Ragamuffin off the 1st line. Helsal was allocated the 2nd start line along with 12 70’ Clippers doing a Round The World race from London to London. The Sydney To Hobart race made up the 6th leg of their race and we found ourselves constantly battling with them, both at the start and throughout the race. In particular, we had some rivalry with Garmin, as a young lady on board her was from the same village back in England.
The race starts at 1.00pm sharp and there are three warning guns that go off at 10, 5 and 1 minute intervals prior. We elected to hold back a little to ensure a completely safe start and when the final gun went, we were some 50 seconds off the start line, however with good momentum and clear waters in front, we quickly found ourselves in the mix of the 2nd line yachts. As you head out of the Sydney Harbour, there is a small rocky outcrop known as the Sour & Pigs which must be avoided, and the skipper elected to head down the eastern channel, closest to Watsons Bay.
During the next five minutes we found ourselves catching up and passing a number of yachts including the some of the Clippers and were in a tight hustle with two of them along with Mates4Mates who was also in our division. We had to temporarily depower our sails to avoid a collision in front of us, and there was some animated communication between yachts, however we eventually navigated our way through and out past South Head.
With the Heads now behind us and open water ahead, the fleet soon scattered and before long there we very few yachts around us. I can recall counting those we thought might be in front of us, and could count around 15, so relatively speaking, we had a great, incident free start. We quickly settled into a rhythm and were achieving around 10-12 knots of speed over the ground (SOG) with a nice north-east breeze behind us. Our initial tactic was to go quite wide offshore in search of a warm current, and those following the Yacht Tracker probably thought we were heading to NZ at one stage, however the tactic did pay off and we picked up a nice southerly flowing current with water, which is confirmed by temperature (which was around 28 degrees). We estimated this helped our SOG by 1-2 knots and we made good progress into the first evening heading back towards to main part of the fleet.
During the first night, we settled into 4 hour watches, the first starting at 8pm to midnight, then to 4am and so on. Day shifts move to 5 hour intervals which breaks the pattern for the next evening. That is the last night shift finished at say 8am, followed by two 5 hour shifts 8am-1pm, then followed by 1pm-6pm, then back into 4 hour shifts, but now starting at 6pm.
Daybreak on Friday morning greeted us with very light winds and a sail change to a lighter larger spinnaker (on “runner”) which was our largest sail at some 270m2 and whilst this made a small, difference, the wind had dropped to virtually nothing and the rest of the day was spent frustratingly chasing any little puff of breeze on offer. Helsal is a relatively heavy yacht and relishes stronger conditions, so the light winds ultimately went against us for this section of the race (and the heavy 25 tonne Clippers as well), whilst smaller lighter yachts, made up some ground.
Notwithstanding, we did make steady progress and the predicted stronger north-easterly’s did eventually arrive during Saturday evening and by dawn on Sunday, we were well into Bass Straight with a strong breeze at our backs. In fact, we had an excellent start to our Bass Straight crossing reaching speeds regularly around 15 knots and peaking at one stage at 21.7 knots (surfing down waves with the sea at around 2.0 to 2.5m)
Our fun and serious challenges started at the southern end of Bass Strait in an area known as Banks Strait, where to roaring forties from the west funnel through a narrow passage between Flinders Is and north-east Tasmania and collide with what was by then, a strong southerly. This combination proved to be very challenging and by this stage we are into two reefs on our mainsail and a smaller No. 4 genoa up front. Given the turbulent winds colliding, the sea conditions became very turbulent and were a significant challenge for the helm. At one stage around midnight, these conditions really challenged our crew and Helsal nearly broached on a big wave, virtually laying the mast horizontal on three occasions before settling back into a recovered somewhat more vertical position.
We pushed forward off the north east coast of Tassie, however the rigging was being severely tested in these conditions and eventually, one of the stays came loose on the port side second spreader, which required us to lighten the load and heading in closer to the coastline to gain some relief from the now very strong winds. We were also starting to take on quite a lot of water with each wave that crashed over the bow dropping about a bucket full down the mast into the cabin.
After making really good progress earlier in the race, we found ourselves slowing up to preserve to rigging, and eventually pulled into a little bay just north of Bicheno to carry out some repairs to the rigging and the reefing system. We were back underway around 5pm Sunday and by this stage, the winds had eased a little and we made good progress down the Tassie coastline towards Tasman Is.
Being on deck for a nightwatch from midnight to 4am is an exhilarating experience, particularly under a full clear sky full of stars. On one shift, I counted 5 shooting stars and one satellite (a great way to pass the time when there are no tacks or sail changes to be done). The sky starts to turn light around 4am and sunrises were around 5am, and just as we were coming off our 4am watch, you could make out Tasman Is (turning point for heading up Storm Bay and the Derwent River) in the distance, a very welcome sight.
The next shift pushed on to round Tasman Is and even at this point, it feels like you are nearly there, however there is still 40 nm to the finish line (with 590 nm completed). The mix of rounding this point, change in wind and tide, actually made for very challenging sailing again with the swell in particular, picking up to 5-6m. Just after sunrise, with Tasman Is, Cape Raoul and the “organ pipes” in the background, we were greeted with a small plane, circling each yacht taking aerial photos, flying only 20m above sea level the whole time (our mast is 24m from the deck, and the plane was lower than its top). The backdrop of these cliffs is an amazing sight and features in all the local tourist brochures. A short turn right would have taken us up to Port Arthur.
By now, there seemed to be quite a few yachts coming from everywhere converging on the passage up through Storm Bay, each having different tactics for then heading up the Derwent. We were in a few match races with other yachts, in particular one of the Clippers being Garmin. The ensuring hours were characterised by fine-tuning our sailing, moving weight around on-board and trying to eke out every last bit of speed and overtake those in front.
With the wind still quite strong, Helsal performed quite well in these conditions and we managed to pass 4 or 5 yachts, all the while keeping in front of Garmin. I have heard of stories around how long it can take to sail up the “river” and now have some appreciation for this as it seemed to take forever.
Nonetheless, just after 3pm on Monday afternoon, we crossed the finish line, completing the race in 4 days, 2 hours and 16 minutes. The feeling of completion, achievement and mission accomplished was quite over-whelming, but nowhere near as much as sailing passed all those on Constitution Dock waving and cheering us on! Mind you, most had been at the Taste of Tassie festival for a while and were nicely charged!
Sails down and secured, we then motored into the pen with all others that had finished, and the skipper dutifully accepted our carton of Boags Premium (provided to all yachts that finish). Friends and family were on dock to greet us and there was lots of emotion flying around,,,, an absolutely wonderful feeling!
In the end, we finished 60th for line honours out of a starting total of 94 in a time of 04:02:16 arriving on 30 Dec at 03:16:59 PM and we were 6th in our PHS Division 1, which was eventually won by Mates4Mates (a Volvo 60), a Qld boat sponsored by the RSL in support of returned servicemen (a great story in its own right). At one stage earlier in the race we we31stoverall and leading our division, so we know we were competitive!
Wild Oats captured all the headlines finishing in 02:06:07 coming in on 28 Dec at 07:07:27 PM, with Loyal and Ragamuffin pushing them all the way along with Ragamuffin. Last yacht to finish was Namadgi in a time of 05:09:57 coming in on 31 Dec at 10:57:33 PM. Needless to say, they got a bigger cheer than Wild Oats!
If we were to go back and reflect on our crew objectives, they were:
1) Complete the race safely
2) Have Fun
3) Do as well as we can
These were definitely all achieved!
ABOUT SYDNEY TO HOBART RACE
From the spectacular start in Sydney Harbour, the fleet sails out into the Tasman Sea, down the south-east coast of mainland Australia, across Bass Strait (which divides the mainland from the island State of Tasmania), then down the east coast of Tasmania. At Tasman Island the fleet turns right into Storm Bay for the final sail up the Derwent River to the historic port city of Hobart.
People who sail the race often say the first and last days are the most exciting. The race start on Sydney Harbour attracts hundreds of spectator craft and hundreds of thousands of people lining the shore as helicopters buzz above the fleet, filming for TV around the world.
The final day at sea is exciting with crews fighting to beat their rivals but also looking forward to the traditional Hobart welcome, and having a drink to relax and celebrate their experience.
Between the first and last days the fleet sails past some of the most beautiful landscape and sea scapes found anywhere in the world.
The New South Wales coast is a mixture of sparkling beaches, coastal townships and small fishing villages, although for most of the race south the yachts can be anywhere between the coastline and 40 miles offshore.
During the race, many boats are within sight of each other and crews listen closely to the information from the twice-daily radio position schedules ("skeds" as they are called). In more recent years, crews have been able to pin point the entire fleet's whereabouts and follow each boat's progress against their own using on board computers and Yacht Tracker on the official race website.
Bass Strait (nicknamed the 'paddock) has a dangerous personality. It can be dead calm or spectacularly grand. The water is relatively shallow and the winds can be strong, these two elements often coming to create a steep and difficult sea for yachts.
The third leg after the 'paddock' - down the east coast of Tasmania takes the fleet past coastal holiday resorts and fishing ports with towering mountains in the background. Approaching Tasman Island, the coastline comprises massive cliffs, sometimes shrouded in fog.
The winds are often fickle and can vary in strength and direction within a few miles. Sailing becomes very tactical.
After turning right at Tasman Island, sailors often think the race is near completed, but at this point there is still 40 miles of often hard sailing to go. Yachts can be left behind in the maze of currents and wind frustrations.
Even when they round the Iron Pot, a tiny island that was once a whaling station, there is still a further 11 miles up the broad reaches of the Derwent River to the finish line off Hobart's historic Battery Point, with Mount Wellington towering over the city.
No matter the time of day or night, the first yacht to finish receives an escort of official, spectator and media boats as it sails towards the finish line.
Hundreds of people crowd the foreshores of Sullivans Cove to cheer the yachts and their crews while volunteers from the finishing club, the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, meet the weary crews with open arms and famous Tasmanian hospitality, and escort them to their berth in the Kings Pier marina.
It's an event that Tasmanians love to host in the middle of Hobart's Taste of Tasmania Festival.
Then it's time to celebrate or commiserate, swap yarns about the race with other crews over a few beers in Hobart's famous waterfront pubs such as the Customs House Hotel or the Rolex Sydney Hobart Dockside Bar.
Karoline at helm prior to start, and not too much competition!!
last I saw of Helsal 3 until Hobart
Karoline being interviewed at finish in Hobart by local TV and the 'first timer race dip' in Constitution Dock!