Friday, 11 January 2013


A few comments on my      

                           Sydney to Hobart race

This 630 NM race is one of the highlights in offshore racing.

It brings you south along the coastline of Australia into the Bass Strait, a notorious stormy and wild sea. 

Braking wave in Bass strait

Its geographical specialty with relatively shallow waters, swell from the Pacific Ocean, a current often from the north and winds from any other direction create frequently chaotic waves, which make it a challenge for everyone to sail on. Finally the race leads along the east coast of Tasmania into its capital, Hobart.

Peter, Duncan and I enjoying a little chat on the rail as we enter the Bass Strait. 

After some tragic races with casualties and lost boats the safety regulation for this race have been pushed to a very high level. This includes extended safety equipment, a tracker, personal beacon for each sailor, high crew qualification requirements (Cat 1 experience for half of the crew), a tight net of SAR facilities consisting mainly in rescue helicopters and a reporting system done with HF radios.

This year there have been close to 80 yachts on the start. Quite a few open 60 racers and racing yachts made for this kind of race.

Our training started on 17.Januar in Sydney, Middle harbor on ARCTOS, a 55 ft cutter rigged McIntire. A very strong and solid yacht made for the storms in the southern pacific. Sailing a yacht with cutter rig and running backstays was new to me.

The crew of 12 sailors was very international and consisted of 5 professionals and a mix of 7 very experienced sailors. Dominated by 6 English sailors, there have been 1 Irish, 2 Aussis, 1 Kiwi, 1 Japanese and me from Germany.

Tomo our asian power. I guess he has a lot of bruises now but he was fighting hard and earned the respect from everyone. He stays in Sydney for a few more weeks before he is heading back to Tokyo. All the best for your future Tomo

We worked in 2 shifts of 4 hours each. I worked in my shift as the bowman. My position in previous offshore races was usually the one as tactician, navigator and helmsman. This time I wanted to see the other side (the wet side) of the boat and I must admit that I greatly enjoyed it.

The training and preparation included a 24 hour passage, an intense training on emergency procedures and a lot of spinnaker sailing and sail changes. I learned a lot.

Brendon fighting with the sail. He was working the "pit" together with Emily. Brendon,
have a great time together with Emily in Christchurch 

Arctos is a work-intensive boat. She tends to crash heavy into the waves generating a lot of spray. 

Arctos is fast on a downwind course but unfortunately a really bad pointer and not very fast on a close-hauled course. And shortly after the start, as we sailed out of the Sydney bay, you could see that most of the boats have been on a much better upwind course South along the coast. Not a good start for us.

Note the additional crew-member on the stern. Looks like he hasn't got his personal beacon with him.

Jason our Mate. He took great care of us. Not only for the food. Jason, I'm looking forward to do the MiniTransat with you in the next years. 

We must have been in the very last part of the fleet in the 1st night but we expected for the next day the wind to change to a Northerly where we would be able to use the downwind potential of Arctos. But before the required wind change came we had to endure calm winds of well below 10 kt for another night.

A calm night is coming

And finally the wind change came.

Emily was working in the "pit" and it was amazing how well she was fitting in. Well done Emily. All the best for you and Brendon in Christchurch.

Now we sailed on our symmetrical spinnaker for more then 20 hours and this pushed us from last position to the leader from or class and division. Our top speed was 17.5 kt in a 25 kt breeze and as we are all regatta sailors, in no time there was a little competition going on amongst our 2 shifts of who would get the highest speed out of Arctos. But I forgot already which shift made it.

Charles getting ready for his shift. Charles, you was a great mast man and it was nice hanging with you on the rail having always a nice chat.

As we came into Bass Strait the wind changed again to force us into a close-hauled course for most of the remaining race. Winds around 25 to 35 kt with chaotic waves of 3 to 4 meter. The Bass Strait showed its soft side.  Pete, our tactician managed to make optimal use of current and wind and Duncan, our skipper made sure that we squeezed the best out of Arctos.

Kirsty enjoying the sailing. She has an amazing experience and it was a pleasure to work with her in my shift. Kirsty, all the best for your job interview. This crazy woman is preparing already for her next sailing adventure in a few month. She can't get enough. 

We had a new mainsail and now some of the battens started to slide out of the sail. It was hard work to get them back in and fix them in position during the sailing but with team effort it finally was managed.

Henry enjoying supper. Henry was the bowman from the other shift and we worked very well together in the shift changes. Thank you very much Henry. 

As we sailed along the Tasmanian coast it became clear that it would be a tough race fighting for the leading position (in our class and division) amongst 4 of the boats.

We came in on an afternoon and in light winds we had to tack up the Hobart river to the finishing line with headsail 1 (a huge sail) hoisted.

Chris on the helm. Let's see how it works with the application for the Clipper race skipper. 1 year around the world!!!! That must be fun.

 The final hour in the race

Suddenly the headsail ripped in the top part and a 2-meter long hole forced us for an immediate and quick sail change. Nr 2 headsail was hoisted and Jason and I quickly sewed the nr 1 sail, it was possible that we would need it again. I did a fast course on sewing the sail. Thank you Jason.

What a drama. The tension could not have been higher.

Duncan on the helm getting everything out of Arctos on the last hour of the race. Thank you Dancan. You was a great skipper. 

Due to the fact that we had to tack upwind and the ripped headsail we lost the leading position and finished 2nd in our class (out of 9) and 3rd in our division (out of 16). A very good result if you consider that most of the race was done on a beating course.

Pete our tactician and navigator and the other Mate on board. With his maritime background and his company for advanced Navigation systems we could not have had a better one. Cool Pete, well done. 

The welcome in Hobart harbor was overwhelming. The crowed was cheering and everyone was in party mood. An experience I’ll never forget. 

It took us 4 days and 2 hours to finish. The overall winner, WILD OATS, finished with a new record of 1 day, 18 hours and 32 minutes. No way of keeping up with these kind of boats.

Peter the big (young) is enjoying his breakfast in a price giving ceremony. Peter stays in Hobart with Arctos to sail her  back as Mate for a group of ocean passage candidates. Have fun. 

Since our Arctos stayed in Hobart till 14. January, I sailed back to Sydney on 1st January on “BREAKTHROUGH”, a First 40.7. A nice boat but I could see that Arctos is much stronger and more suitable for this kind of weather we sailed in.

Inside of Breakthrough

The sailing back was not a race anymore. Just a delivery of the boat back to Sydney. We have been 5 sailors on the boat and worked in shifts of 2  sailors with 2 or 3 hours on/off. The skipper kept out of the watch system. 

As we came out of Hobart river sailing North along the Tasmanian coastline a 40 kt wind hit us with steep 4 to 5 meter waves.

 More challenging weather then on the race itself.  

We had 2 days of strong wind sailing and on the 3rd day we have been 80NM off the coast east of Eden (a harbor on the southeast tip of Australia) when our rudder broke.

The rudder quadrant was sheered off. This is the 2nd time I experience this on a Beneteau boat. 

We had to divert to Eden with emergency tiller. Steering the boat with emergency tiller for 80NM was challenging. I must admit that I enjoyed it.  

Breakthrough had to stay for a few days in Eden waiting for spare parts and we decided to go by bus back to Sydney.

I learned a lot in these days of intense sailing and working on the bow. 

An experience I won’t forget

But it was also exhausting and during the race I told myself that I have enough of offshore racing, especially after a few days of working shift’s in a wet and stormy environment, on a boat rocking violently, sleeping (if you can call it that) in the bow part on a bunk needing a safety belt to prevent you from being thrown out, personal needs reduced to sleep and food and if you could make it to the head (the toilet) then you had a great day.

But now after the race it is the nice moments and memories which take precedence in my mind and maybe…….

Who knows. There are many offshore races waiting to be challenged. Jason was planting a new idea in my mind. MiniTransat from Europe to Brazil with a small boat and only 2 sailors on board. Hmmm, I have to think about that. I also might organize a boat with my colleagues, maybe for the Fastnet or any other race.  

I"m in Singapore now waiting for my connecting flight back home to Europe. The day to day routine will get me soon. I expect pics and videos from the other guy''s and I"ll publish some on this blog. Check it out from time to time.

Cheers, Matthias

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