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Sydney to Hobart Race and Cruising Tasmania

Even though we had been making very leisurely progress down the coast toward Sydney, we were very conscious that the time was approaching when we would have to settle somewhere for a while in order to start our proper preparation for the Sydney to Hobart Race. We wanted to do at least some cruising in Broken Bay first, so we headed there. Fortunately we were early enough in the season that there were relatively few locals about during the week, apart from the chartered floating caravans which cruise through the whole area, but fortunately never have to face the open sea - or even a severe inshore chop. We had a delightful time exploring the creeks with 'Sunstone', the dinghy and on foot. Though we did not find any of the snakes, leeches or spiders with which we had been threatened by cheerful Aussies, we did find ticks - or they found us. One took a particular fondness for Vicky's scalp and required forcible extraction. We only found out a few days later that he had exacted his revenge posthumously by giving Vicky a slight, but uncomfortable, infection. Like so many inshore cruising grounds surrounded by hills, it is very difficult to do much real sailing in Broken Bay, Cowan Creek and its many branches. The whole area surrounding the waterways is a Reserve or national park, which maintains moorings in most of the sheltered bays and coves. Anchoring is rarely necessary, at least during the week and as early in the season as we visited. The scenery is craggy, with rocky heights covered with typical Australian bush, much of it fairly young growth on sandy soil.

We had made a decision early in our progress down the coast that it would be better to stay in Pittwater, just outside Sydney during our race preparations than to plunge into the big city. This turned out well. The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club in Newport on Pittwater was welcoming and helpful. Newport itself and neighboring Mona Vale were within reasonable biking distance and had all the shopping we needed including a very good chandlery. John Anderson, the Chief Measurer for NSW lived close by and was able to come down to do a fresh set of afloat measurements and issue a new IMS certificate, while David Kellett, a friend from Tom's days on the ORC also lived close by. These were the compensations. However, it was still necessary to offload all our gear, goods and chattels for the remeasurement, putting some into a hired store in Mona Vale for collection in April and others back onto the boat afterwards. The extra safety regulations for the Race also meant that we had to purchase a good deal of new equipment including sealed batteries to replace ones which were still in perfectly good condition. Tom took his HF radio qualification and both of us attended required safety seminars, similar to the RYA's excellent Survival at Sea course. We also managed to get a coat of varnish on the hull and coach roof, knowing well that chances later would be limited, and hauled out for three days to put the final touches on the bottom and have the propellor measured. Typically, almost all of this activity took place during one of the wettest periods in NSW history. By the end of it one third of the state was under water - about the same proportion as 'Sunstone'.

In the midst of all this nautical busy work we managed two breaks. The first was the OCC meet at the Basin in Pittwater, where we made contact or met again a number of Australian members. The second was to drive down to Canberra to celebrate Mary and Ron Stearn's 50th wedding anniversary. They were in fine form in the midst of a formidable family gathering. Despite - or perhaps because of - the importance of the occasion, most of the family managed to spend large amounts of time in Ron and Mary's pool or lounging beside it. A side trip took us to the Snowy Mountains, where we managed an interesting hike despite some of the poorest signposting we have encountered. Vicky was foiled by fog and snow from visiting the top of Mt. Koskiosko, much to Tom's relief. Our drive back to Pittwater took us through the Southern Highlands where Erich and Gillian Brosell from 'Holger Dansk' put us up at their lovely house in Bowral. We then detoured the next day to the Blue Mountains, where we went both up and down some 900 steps near the Three Sisters.

 

 

We passed successive deadlines for paperwork, applications, etc for the Race successfully and also managed to find our sixth crew member by regaining contact with Michael Jackson (no relation) from Sydney, who had sailed with us in '93. All that remained was for Tom to survive close encounters with Aussie motorists on his bike by the skin of his chin (held together with three stitches). By 11 December we were ready to move round to the CYCA at Sydney and made something of an occasion of our entry to that famous harbour by bringing both Vicky's sisters, Annabel and Fiona with us. It is a spectacular harbour, and we explored it further the following day with Dave Stearn aboard as local guide to his childhood haunts.

 

With much of the Wylie clan present in Australia, a clan gathering was inevitable. Thanks to cousin Joanna Whiteley's hospitality, this convivial and not entirely alcohol-free gathering was held at her lovely old house (old by Australian standards - 1850's) near Nowra, in Terrara, one of the earliest settlements in that part of the country. A side trip to Jervis Bay allowed those blighted by UK damp to soak up the sun on the beach.

The last two weeks before the Race were pretty frenetic. The Coroner's report on the deaths in the 98 Race came out only ten days before the start. The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the organising club, was heavily criticised, as expected, and the Race Director was replaced. There were hurried spot checks on safety equipment and, for a time it looked as though the fleet would be heavily reduced when the Club banned two popular types of liferaft. Fortunately we were not affected much by the excitement, but still had plenty to do - mostly removing further gear from the boat. We reckoned that we were the only entrant to remove food from aboard for storage ashore during the Race. Unlike the run-up to the Bermuda Race, we had time to prepare ourselves properly with information about currents and the developing weather pattern. Michael Jackson, our Aussie crew member was very helpful in gathering info from the web, as well as many other tasks.

Unlike either the Fastnet or the Bermuda Race, the Sydney to Hobart is a major national event, attracting lots of popular and media interest. Most of this is focussed on the big boats which vie for the line honours prize, but a fair amount rubs off on the rest of the fleet. As 'good copy', we had two television, two radio and several newspaper interviews during the last week - all good for the vanity. Of course it helped that we celebrated our 28th anniversary a week before the Race. Two of our crew, John Curtis and Viv Worrall (both also did the Bermuda Race), had been in Australia touring for two weeks. They joined us on the 23rd. Andy Beharrell flew in the same day and joined us on Christmas Eve as did Michael and we went out for an afternoon crew practice. On Christmas Day we went out again, this time combining business with pleasure by practicing first and then anchoring in Quarantine Bay for Christmas Lunch in tropical heat and sunshine. For a time during lunch we were worried about John's health, when he disappeared into the loo for some time. We were even more intrigued when he emerged, red-faced, asking Viv to join him. All was revealed when they emerged exhausted - with an inflatable Christmas tree in hand. With the weather we were to have on the Race, it was a good thing that we ate well that day.

 

 

 

With the major event status of the Race, its start is an amazing spectacle, but something of a nightmare for the crews of the smaller yachts in the fleet. All boats start together, surrounded by a huge spectator fleet, which is kept well under control by official marshalls. With the differences in speed, it is easy to find yourself - as we did - the bite-sized meat in a sandwhich of two maxis luffing and shoving at twelve knots. Five minutes later the air started to clear a bit and the smaller boats began racing properly. After a lightish beat out the harbour and a close fetch to get clear of the heads, we set the kite and had a lovely reach in about 15-20 knots of NEly until late afternoon when the wind came flukey and generally more westerly, gradually increasing in strength. By dawn the wind was SW and moving up toward 25 knots. For the next four days we were on the wind mostly in 25-45 knots of breeze, generally under the No. 4 and a variety of reefs, or even for a while at its worst, with no mainsail at all. It should have been pretty miserable and at times it was. Not only was it wet on deck, but also below, because of the condensation. Though not bitter, it was cold and everyone was in thermals. The waves were not huge, but quite big at times and very often 'backless', so that we came crashing down from a great height on a number of occasions, shivering both our timbers and 'Sunstone's'. We all ended up with odd bumps and bruises from being thrown around. There were certainly times when, tired, cold, wet and hungry we would have been delighted if Scottie had beamed us up. Despite all this, the crew were pretty cheerful, which was remarkable, given that they had plenty of time to contemplate what else they could have flown half way round the world for.

In the early hours of New Year's Eve, the wind eased, though it was still a dead beat. We rounded Tasman Island's spectacular organ pipe cliffs just as dawn was breaking and by then the wind was rapidly fading - as we had rather expected it would. We held breeze just long enough to scrape by Cape Raoul, but then spent several frustrating hours waiting for the sea breeze. It finally filled in early afternoon and gave us a delightful kite run up the Derwent, which we capped off with a perfect spinnaker peel two miles from the finish, which we crossed at 1723. They were just pulling the New Year's Eve fireworks barge into position as we entered Hobart's Constitution Dock to receive the enthusiastic reception from the locals which every boat gets as it comes in. At that stage we had no idea how we had done, but we were delighted to have made it!

Though the organisation of the Race and the reception of yachts in Hobart was excellent, the results service was not. Even the Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, hosts at the finish, thought we were third in our division 18 hours after we had finished. We did not actually confirm that we had won our IMS C Division until nearly two days after we finished and then it was by chance through the Race website. Since we had been reasonably happy with the idea of being third, we were delighted to be first and it was a just reward for our cheerful, resilient and hardworking crew. The crew, quite rightly were making hay by having a thoroughly good time in Hobart, John, Viv and Andy even hiring a seaplane to view some of the bits of Tasmania they would have liked to visit at greater leisure. Michael put off his flight back to Sydney twice. In the meantime, Tom and Vicky began the slow process of reconverting 'Sunstone' from racer back to cruiser again, with pauses for naps and a few beers in between. The prize-giving came as something of an anti-climax. We are used to more formal occasions at which there is something of a party atmosphere. It seemed that most of the recipients were partied out. In any case there were lots of speeches, but the prizes were whisked out of competitors hands the moment the publicity photos had been taken and returned to the armoured container. As well as our divisional prize, Vicky got a special prize as first female skipper.

And suddenly it was all over, the crew hurried off to the airport and we made arrangements to haul 'Sunstone' out for a few days to deal with the splines which had popped falling off waves. Sailor that she is, Fiona was understanding about missing several days cruising and instead was a great help to us in sorting out the boat. After the first couple of days, Vicky and Fi went off exploring the nearer bits of the countryside, while Tom finished off his work on the splines. This went smoothly and quickly, but only because of the kindness of any number of new Hobart friends who helped find such essentials as routers and splines, quite apart from providing Fi with accommodation and all of us with dinners. It was wonderful hospitality. The only sadness was the theft of our divisional winners pennant from the boat one night.

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