How to be an Ocean Racer - Sydney to Hobart - Fight to the Finish
"Are we nearly there yet?"
"Only another day mate"
I have to admire the skipper's patience. By the fifth day the ocean racing novelty had worn off completely. Fed up from eating porridge from a cup, drinking water laced with other people's porridge bits, peeing into a serrated bottle, hauling sails up and down, sitting on a hard deck and leaning over the side for hours on end, being splashed with cold sea water and sleeping in conditions that make a cattle truck seem luxurious, I was sure the convicts transported to Tasmania one hundred and fifty years previously had a better time of it than me.
We were racing but seemingly in ultra slow motion. The sail that was on the horizon ahead of us the previous night seemed no closer. The Tasmanian mountains to our right appeared stationary for hours on end. We were making progress for sure, but at a little over walking pace, the time and the nautical miles dragged on like a kid waiting for Christmas. I was feeling pretty miserable for sure. But it wasn't the tedium that was getting to me. Pressure was building. Not pressure to finish as high as possible or atmospheric pressure, more a nagging downward pressure, the pressure of keeping a cork in it for four days. I'd been trying all sorts of mental distractions to take my mind off it; multiplication tables, the names of the England World Cup winning team, counting blessings, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't drown out the call of nature. My eyes had turned brown, I was never going to make it to the Hobart dockside loos. Like Luke Skywalker I descended to the bowls of the boat to confront my destiny.
The off watch were sleeping like babies, completely unaware of the bomb about to be dropped in there midst.
You may think I'm making a bit of a drama out of all this but I was worried on several counts. Jimmy from New Zealand had been the first to crack yesterday and his attempt to bomb China had backfired spectacularly when the dreaded Head refused to accept it's payload and regurgitated its contents all over the cabin floor. Nasty, but not the end of the world perhaps. But the floor boards are only loose fitting covers and anything spilled will trickle down into the bilges which run the length of the boat. So any accident in the for'ard compartment is soon shared with the rest of the sleeping crew.
But I was one step ahead. Not trusting my flushing skills I opted for the traditional bucket approach. Success! But what I'd forgotten was the walk of shame with the bucket through the sleeping crew, up onto the deck and an awkward shuffle to the back of the boat. The crew parted before me like the Red Sea before Moses. What I didn't realise was that the Skipper had caught my dreadnought launching ceremony on camera. If you like your privacy... don't go sailing!
By the time we got to the turn into the final run to Hobart at dawn on the fifth day, the sun was out and it was a pleasure to be on deck. We hadn't finished racing though. Kinetic was close on our heels and three more boats were in sight ahead. There were still places at stake. We were reeling in the boats ahead, with our spinnaker up for the first time in the race and we were pulling away from Kinetic. Then in the middle of the Derwent estuary, within sight of Hobart we hit a dead calm. The boat started to go backwards as the tide pushed us along. Kinetic had chosen to stay close to the North shore and were able to keep some wind in their sails. By the time we picked up some puff they were past us and too far ahead to catch. After five days and over 625 miles, I was amazed our race went right to the line.
A big crowd was on the dock to welcome in the boats, cheering and clapping as we motored to our berth. The Race Organisers greeted each boat with a slab of beers in true Aussie tradition. After five days at sea the beer slipped down a treat. I felt all aglow but not from the beer, it was the realisation that I'd done something unrepeatable. I'd pushed myself to the limit and come through. For the guys who had done the event many times it was just another race but for an ordinary guy who'd spent most of his life piloting an office desk this was the pinnacle of adventure, something to look back on in old age and say, "yeh, I did that".
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