Our man Chris retired in 2008 and decided to learn to sail. Chris being Chris he did this in full not half measure and did the lot – everything from Competent Crew through to Yachtmaster Ocean. And he did it in Australasia, for some reason, which is why he ended up competing in that well-known ocean race down under, the Sydney-Hobart.
Sydney-Hobart is a 1170 km run, mainly south. The prevailing winds are northerly so it should be something of a downwind doddle. But it isn’t, not at all. This is the Southern Ocean, down at 40 degrees latitude, and the race is across the Bass Strait, a bottleneck separating mainland Australia from Tasmania, through which the big seas and winds have to squeeze. The weather is subject to sudden changes; the seas are steep, and the currents fast and complex.
The race was first held in 1945, as a cruise. Took over 6 days. Now the winners do it in under 2 days, at average (!) speeds in excess of 19 knots. The race has been dominated over the years by one boat in particular, Wild Oats XI, which has won 9 times and broken many records. These are big, serious racing boats skippered and crewed by determined individuals.
Tragedy struck in 1998, when, during an exceptionally strong storm, 6 boats were lost and 6 people died. Safety became a central focus for the organisers and these days the fitness of boat and crew must be demonstrated – boats must parade with storm sails set, a qualifying passage has to be completed, at least 50% of the crew must have competed a Category 1 ocean race, and there is an age limit.
Chris was on Arctos, a relatively modest (by the standards of typical Sydney-Hobart maxis) 54 footer, built in 2001. The crew of 13 were run in two watches of 6 and an engineer/cook, hot-bunking their 3 hours on and 3 hours off. Chris was navigator, the challenge of which being principally to understand and find the best route through the ever-changing spirals of currents, which are fast. One boat, Georgina, hit something and sank. On Arctos, either they held on to their spinnaker for too long or there was something awry with the spinnaker pole but they managed to break it. With a spare, and some judicious use of Jubilee clips, repairs were done and the kite re-flown.
Weather was good, in the main. They averaged 7 knots and completed the course in 3 days 19 hours and a few minutes, which was 10 hours faster than Arctos had managed in a previous race. They were placed second in class – a result to be proud of.