How to be an Ocean Racer - Sydney to Hobart - Day 2 the tough stuff.
The second day of the race dawned grey and bleak. The wind had dropped from 35 knots back to 10 knots but the seas were still angry and determined to make us work hard.
I was having trouble holding on to my breakfast, in fact I was struggling to hold on period. When you are standing on a cliff top looking at a yacht cruising serenely past there is a certain idyllic feel about it, everything looks graceful and unruffled. But if you zoomed in to the deck it would look more like an ants nest that's been kicked by a twelve year old. Mental is not the word. When I signed up for the Sydney Hobart I was naive enough to imagine the first scenario. I knew it wouldn't be quite like sipping G & T's on a sun lounger, I fully expected the odd wave breaking over the bow. The reality is very much more Spartacus than James Bond. I haven't quite been tied to the mast and flogged to within an inch of my life by Captain Bligh wielding a cat-a-nine-tails (that's another web site). But I have got more bruises and cuts than a cage fighter and developing forearms like Popeye from hauling sails up and down. The spinnaker I'm sure is an old Wimbledon Centre Court cover. It's like hauling in a cloud and stuffing it in a duffel bag while riding a rodeo stallion at the foot of Niagra, and at the same time being verbally abused by the Aussie contingent - 'come on John, pull it like you're pulling your father off your sister'!!! Repeat this every 15 minutes until you hang over the side like a puppet with the strings cut.
Losing our Number One Head Sail in the night was a big blow to our chances of a decent place. Its a bit like a racing car running on wet tyres in the dry. We had also gone off our racing course and would have to make up extra miles to get us back on track.
To keep the boat running 24/7 you need a watch routine; half the crew on deck and the rest below, for periods of four hours in the day and three hours at night. Being on-watch was physically and mentally gruelling. A 38 foot racing yacht in the open ocean, with a four metre swell, has all the stability of a tightrope walker on acid. You sit on the high side of the boat, exposed to wind that wants to tear your clothes off and waves determined to soak your thermals; your body jack knifed and wedged between the stainless steel wires of the safety rail; you hang on tight, burning energy like a lumberjack while the lightweight boat runs up and over truck sized waves with the alacrity of a teenage skateboarder. Your eyes wear the hands off your wrist watch checking for the moment of release to the cosy sanctuary of your bunk.
You might think that with all that fresh sea air and exercise sleep would be easy. However, this is sleeping on a glassfibre roller coaster which would climb ten foot waves and then leap off the top like a bungee jumper without a rope, landing with a bone crunching crash. Then do it all over again, and again, and again. Just going up and down would be bad enough but then there is the rolling from side to side. Sleeping bags roll beautifully and just when you were about to doze off, a side on wave would roll you into the bulkhead like a two hundred pound bowling ball. Three hours of that and a dripping sadist would shout you on deck for the next watch.
Getting dressed was more fun. Think putting on three layers of clothing plus boots while riding a cucumber in a Magimix. The only way I could manage to dress would be to sit on the wet floor of the cabin with my back wedged against the mast and my feet against the galley. It can be quite humid and stuffy below deck and the effort would bring back the nausea and it was a relief to scramble up into the light and resume my perch on the rail.
As darkness fell over us and the lights of land disappeared into the murk I wondered if I could take another three days of this. But you are not on a bus, you can't say I've gone far enough now thanks and I want to get off. If you were running a marathon you could stop. If you were climbing a mountain you could absail down. Coming up next was the Bass Straight, where the great Southern Ocean meets the Pacific, a hundred miles of unpredictable wildness that separates the Australian mainland from Tasmania. All I could do now was try not to think about it and enjoy the sunset over an unforgettable day.
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