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SCUTTLEBUTT #246 - December 29, 1998

Orange life rafts heaved in roiling seas Monday as a storm decimated the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race. At least five sailors were killed as 90-mph winds and towering seas turned 40-foot yachts into tub toys, flipping them over, snapping their masts and swamping them with water. A former British Olympic sailor who had been missing was added to the death count, said Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesman Brian Hill. One other sailor was still missing, but many involved in the rescue were doubtful he could have survived.

As Australia mounted one of its largest maritime rescue operations ever, military helicopters hovered over 35-foot swells to hoist about 50 other sailors to safety off Australia's southeast coast, 250 miles south of Sydney. Many of the sailors were injured -- with broken bones, dislocated shoulders, cuts on the face and hands -- from being struck by broken rigging or tossed upside down when their boats capsized. Emergency flares sent streams of red smoke into the air to speed the rescue effort.

The 725-mile race continued despite the worst tragedy in its 54-year history. Of the 115 yachts that entered, 59 were forced to seek shelter and several boats were abandoned, race officials said.

As the rescue mission went on, American maxi Sayonara took line honours in the race, crossing the line shortly before 8:30am AEDT. Although being ahead of record schedule for much of the race, a southerly wind meant it finished a little more than five-and-a-half hours outside Morning Glory's 1996 time of two days, 14 hours, 10 minutes and seven seconds. Brindabella finished in second place shortly before 11:00am AEDT. Easing wind conditions off the East Coast of Tasmania have given one of the smaller yachts in the fleet, the 35-footer AFR Midnight Rambler, an excellent chance to win the race overall on handicap.

To win the race despite such savage conditions is a great achievement for Sayonara and its crew, but the 54th Sydney to Hobart yacht race will be remembered for other reasons.

Five sailors are so far confirmed dead - Bruce Guy and Phillip Skeggs who were both aboard Business Post Naiad plus the two bodies suspected to be from the Winston Churchill. In addition, British sailor Glyn Charles, 33, was washed off the Sword of Orion yacht Sunday night and declared drowned on Tuesday. Race officials said Charles had represented Britain in the Star Class at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where he finished 11th.

American John Campbell was swept overboard when his yacht capsized. After less than an hour in the water, Campbell was so crippled by hypothermia that a helicopter dropped a policeman down on a line to scoop him up. "There was a point I didn't think I was going to survive,'' Campbell said.

The four Winston Churchill sailors rescued yesterday have told how they survived a terrifying night in six-metre seas. The sailors were taken to Mallacoota in north-eastern Victoria. A hugh wave broke on the 56-year-old Winston Churchill on Sunday afternoon, throwing the crew members violently around the cabin. It smashed the mast through the bottom of the yacht which sank in 15 minutes. The nine crew got into two life rafts which, although tied together, soon separated in the rough seas.

Skipper Richard Winning says the life raft he was in was flipped twice during Sunday night and he had to dive out from beneath it to flip it back over. "That was truly frightening. At night...all of a sudden one minute you're sitting up there as happy as Larry - the next minute you're upside down. And someone's got to go out through the bottom, put on a rope and ride the thing with the other three guys inside. That happened to us twice last night."

The life raft was spotted late yesterday and the men were flown to Mallacoota suffering mild hypothermia and lucky to be alive. Paramedic Cam Roberson, who winched the four to safety, says it was a tremendous feeling to find them alive. "Originally we were told they though it might have just been a one man life raft, but we were delighted to find that in fact there were four of them in a life raft," Mr Roberson said. "Basically, apart from being cold, they were in pretty good health and exceptionally pleased to see us you might say."

Sayonara owner Larry Ellison, in tears after battling through the horror of the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race, said he had never experienced worse conditions at sea. Ellison, the founder and chief executive of computer giant Oracle, won his second Sydney-to-Hobart race but arrived in Hobart early Tuesday to a funereal atmosphere. Asked if he'd come back again, Ellison said, "My first reaction is not if I live to a thousand years. But who knows?''

"It was just awful, I've never experienced anything remotely like this,'' said Ellison. "It's been a very emotional experience to get here. This is not what this is supposed to be about. A lot of us are upset.'' Ellison said it was an extraordinarily difficult as his yacht battled "right through the eye of a hurricane'' and his crew heard by radio of the deaths in the battered fleet.

Sayonara's helmsman Chris Dickson says thoughts of breaking the race record had been lost in the struggle to stay alive. "We hadn't been thinking or racing for a record at all in this race," he said. "It would have been nice of course but we were out there to number one look out for the boat and the people. "And being here first is - sure it's nice - but being here at all is a big thing. "And I think I speak for every member of the team and we are thinking of those still out there and not thinking too much about how we have done," Dickson said. - Peter Campbell, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Associated Press all contributed to this summary.

Event web sites:
Also, Yachting Magazine's web site has a comprehensive "link farm" for news, insight and perspective on the Sydney to Hobart Race:

Letters may be edited for space (250 words max) or clarity -- or to exclude personal attacks.

--From Dobbs Davis -- As a reply to Rick Merriman, I agree the $25 fee charged by US Sailing to process your eligibility seems like a rip-off, especially since it's not optional for the restricted classes. Seems like a clever revenue generator if you want to sail as an amateur in the Mumm 30, 1D35, or Farr 40 classes. However, they have done a pretty good job of processing the applications fast, and they also get the list of eligibility decisions out quickly for class organizers. Moreover, I think that if a crew member is not claiming to be an amateur, then his status does not need to be confirmed. In other words, the class rules restrict the maximum number of non-Group 1's - thus, only the 1's need their eligibility ticket.

-- From Dave Irish, Chairman, USSA Competitor Eligibility Committee -- Just a brief response to Rick Merriman's letter. Costs to administer Competitor Eligibility are staff time and office and communication expenses at US SAILING. Most of the decision work is volunteered, including their related costs by the Competitor Eligibility Committee members. The determination, costing $25 lasts 3 years. I think this activity, which affects less than 2000 sailors of the 40,000 or so US SAILING members, should be self supporting via user fees. Volunteers could not do this work without the office coordination, and the office cannot do the coordination without the costs being supported. Got a better idea than user pays?

-- From Tom Priest (concerning Jim Durden's statements about shoddy race committee work) -- I have a suggestion that also starts with a question. Is a five-to-one return on investment a good investment? I believe most folks would say yes. So here's the suggestion. For every five races you compete in, you help on RC or volunteer in some fashion help to run one. This accomplishes many things: eliminates a shortage on RC, it forces better knowledge of the rules, those quick to piss and moan about RC management might be a little more understanding, and its actually kind of fun!

So get out there and volunteer! And maybe even bring your whole crew for that particular race.

-- From Mike Guccione -- I have all the answers to Jim's problems and racing in general. Now, if I really did, who would I give them to so they could have them implemented?

We have too many races on the calendar and what we need are better races and fewer of them. Anybody disagree? No, I didn't think so. Now who will develop a new plan and new calendar? Until somebody answers this question we will just continue to talk.

I have spent the last five years getting more involved in race management. I worked with over 70 race committee people this year alone and less than 5% have ever held a tiller in any race. They want to be the very best they can at what they do and even though they measure their performance the same as you do, the priority they give things is different than many racers do.

Consider this. If most of the racers are members of the yacht clubs and it's the yacht clubs that are buying crappy trophies then why haven't the racers gone to the management of their clubs and said, "hey guys, we need better trophies and this is the type we and most of the guys like?"

Make this your New Years resolution. Be part of the solution to one little problem with your club's race program. Maybe it's suggesting a minor change in the race announcement, maybe it a suggestion on what kind of beer to serve, but do a little something!

-- From Hugh Elliot Chairman, Committee on Sailors with Special Needs, US Sailing Association -- I need to update all 'Buttheads on the (mis)information - it WAS correct up until the ISAF Meeting in November - provided in #245 about the Paralympic Regatta.

Since the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has determined that an 85 athlete limit applies to the Paralympic Regatta and IFDS/ISAF has determined that teams will be permitted an alternate for the crewed (Sonar) discipline, the total number of entries is now 17 in each class (Sonar with team of 3 plus alternate and 2.4 meter people all on their lonesome).

Seven countries (USA included) plus host country Australia were invited to send Sonar teams based on the results of the 1998 IFDS World Championship and seven countries (USA not included) qualified for the 2.4 Meter Class based on results from the [open] 1998 2.4 Meter Worlds. 8 more countries will qualify in each discipline based on the 1999 IFDS World Championship results (Cadiz, Spain - September 3 - 10, 1999). The remaining entry in each class is a "wild card".

-- From Bobbi Tosse -- Some irreverent thoughts regarding Fossett & company's splash down: I haven't sailed around the world, but I have done quite a few Pacific Cups. I've even sailed in the area about 10 miles north of Oahu. I have never seen a shark. So, how come the Associated Press refers to this area as 'shark infested'? Amazing. When Steve went down north of New Zealand, that water was shark infested, also. Wow. How come we don't read about this infestation from all the around-the-world sailors? Are they hiding something from us?

If you like photographs of sailboats, you're going to really enjoy Daniel Forster's new web site. And if it's classic sailboats that 'ring your bell,' you'll want to 'bookmark' it for sure. Don't miss the preview of Forster's 1999 calendar -- it truly captures the spirit & grace of the Herreshoff yacht -- or his classic black and white prints of some truly classic yachts. You can do it all online:

When the 14 world championships of the 1999 Melbourne Worlds conclude in January, an "international sailing summit" will convene in nearby Geelong. World leaders in sailboat racing and its supporting industries will gather for two days, January 19 and 20, to develop an action plan to promote sailing and increase participation in sailboat racing. Discussions will focus on entry-level sailing, the state of the industry, sponsorship, marketing on the internet, major events, class, club and event management, and coaching. The conference will spend one day focusing on the sailing industry and marketing of sailing. The second day will be devoted to participation and events. - Excerpt from Grand Prix Sailor

For the full story:

As technology moves forward in sail design and materials so it does in custom embroidery as well. New machines software and techniques have been made it possible to produce a product far superior today than in the past. Call Frank Whitton at Pacific Yacht Embroidery and Imprintables (619-226-8033) to stay up with the rest of the world. Don't settle for less when for the same price you can have the best.

Were it not for a Leg 2 change in ports-of-call, the leaders in the Around Alone race today could be struggling for survival in a killer storm that has decimated the 115-boat fleet of crewed yachts that set out from Sydney on 26 December in the 54th edition of the classic Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

Four years ago (as in every previous Around Alone since 1982), the singlehanders finished the second leg in Sydney after negotiating the Bass Strait -- a tricky and often treacherous body of water that separates the Australian mainland from Tasmania -- and sailing up the continent's southeast coast. And it was along that exact same stretch that the Sydney Hobart offshore drama was unfolding early today.

Ironically, with the race now calling in Auckland, the leaders slid south and then east into the Tasman, and were well out of harm's way when the front steamrolled the southbound fleet.
- Herb McCormick

Standings (distance to finish in parenthesis) : CLASS I: 1. Soldini (515) 2. Golding (697) 3. Thiercelin (860) 4. Autissier (887) CLASS II: 1. Mouligne (1081) 2. Garside (1476) 3. Van Liew (1934) 4. Yazykov (2196)

For the full story: http://www.aroundalone.com

Those who burn bridges better learn how to swim.