SCUTTLEBUTT #248 - December 31, 1998
TELSTRA SYDNEY TO HOBART RACE
Authorities recovered the bodies of four sailors and gave up hope Tuesday
of finding two others after a monstrous storm decimated the
Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race, its 90-mph (145-kph) winds and 35-foot
(10.5-meter) swells snapping masts and flipping boats "We wouldn't stop
searching for them if we thought they were still alive," spokesman Brian
Hill said. "It's tragic but most people would realize that we do have to be
Australian officials on Tuesday halted one of the country's largest
maritime rescue operations ever after finding the bodies of four sailors
over two days. Military helicopters plucked about 50 other sailors to
safety off Australia's southeastern coast, 250 miles (400 kilometers) south
Sailors Steve Walker and Rob Matthews were giving the first accounts
Wednesday of their nightmare hours on the Tasmanian 12-meter (40-foot)
Business Post Naiad after it was disabled by huge seas on Sunday night in
Bass Strait during the annual race. An emotional Walker, who broke down
several times, said the weather steadily worsened during Sunday afternoon
and night. During the early evening, a massive breaking wave rolled their
boat 360 degrees. The mast, windows and cabin were broken and four crew
went over the side in their harnesses but were rescued.
They sent out a mayday, which was acknowledged, cleared the shrouds from
the propeller and started their engine intending to head for the closest
land. "It was very difficult to keep on course dodging the waves," Walker
said. "We had two on deck in one-hour shifts, one giving compass headings
and the other steering." About 11 p.m. that night, another wave rolled the
boat, but this time it stayed upside down for four to five minutes.
Matthews, who was on deck shift with Skeggs, said: "I was trapped over the
back of the boat in underneath the cockpit behind the aft lifelines. "When
the boat initially rolled I thought it would do like it did the first time
and just pop back up again. So for the first 10 to 15 seconds I made no
attempt to unhook my harness because I didn't want to leave the boat. Then
when it stayed inverted I started to try to get my harness undone which I
found really difficult even though I had the hooks on my chest because I
was being pulled every which way and I was right at the end of the harness
and I was using all my strength.
"I had nearly run out of breath when the boat was lifted by another wave
and I just sucked enough air to keep me going for another 10 or 15 seconds,
I don't know how long, and I forced the harness off. Then the back of the
boat was only two feet behind me and I popped to the surface and hung onto
the ropes at the stern. I am the luckiest man alive."
Skeggs, in a similar situation, could not free himself. Walker, Guy and the
five other crew members were below decks and upside down. "We heard Rob
calling for Phil," Walker said. "We didn't hear Phil answer and couldn't do
anything. Then another huge wave righted the boat leaving about a meter of
water below decks - Bruce was beside the main hatchway," Walker said. "As
he tried to get up he had a (heart) seizure and died in my arms and I tried
to keep him above the water."
The shocked crew battened the boat down and rode the night out below decks.
"Below decks was horrendous," Walker said. "There was flotsam everywhere
and the water was surging like being on a surf beach."
About 3 a.m. more massive waves washed away the life rafts which had been
lowered to one side of the boat. "We were too exhausted to do anything
about it," Walker said. "Everyone was bashed and bruised."
A search aircraft found them at 7.30 a.m. on Monday and about half an hour
later a helicopter winched the seven survivors to safety. The two bodies
were secured on the boat and left.
"We didn't want to leave Phil and Bruce but we were glad to get off that
boat," Walker said. The boat, with the two bodies aboard, was towed to
shore on Wednesday.
The Overall IMS winner is AFR Midnight Rambler, the Robert Hick-designed
35-footer from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA). Owned by Ed
Psaltis and Bob Thomas, she finished 10th across the line. AFR Midnight
Rambler is the smallest yacht in a decade to win the Race, following the
victory of the Victorian sloop Illusion in 1988. She also took Division D.
Second placegetter overall is Ausmaid (Kevin Pearce), with third place
going to Syd Fischer's Ragmuffin from Sydney.
The first Greek entry, Aera, owned by Nicholas Lykiardopulo, won the
Channel Handicap, while the Tasman Performance Division was won by Aspect
Computing (David Pescud), the entry largely comprised of disabled and some
able-bodied crew from New South Wales. Six boats are still at sea and
expected to finish today.
Race organizers said a full inquiry would be held into the world's worst
yachting disaster since the Fastnet race off Ireland in 1979, in which 15
sailors died. Helicopters hovered over 35-foot (10.5-meter) swells to hoist
dozens of sailors to safety. Many of the crew members 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. - Associated Press
LIVE FROM HOBART
(The following exclusive Scuttlebutt report is from Hobart is from ISAF
Judge Ken Morrison)
I am currently in Hobart on the jury for the race, as I have been for 9 out
of the last 12 years. I also sailed the race in 1983 with Lou Abrahams on
CHALLENGE II. Some news agencies have stated that the race organizers were
warned of the storm 24 hours before the race started and should have
postponed the start or called the race off altogether. I would like to
clarify that point. Every Sydney-Hobart Race I have attended in the past 15
years has had a storm forecast some time during the race. That is part of
the norm for the Sydney-Hobart Race.
Everyone in Australia will tell you that at some time during the race you
will experience a "Southerly Buster" that is created by a low pressure area
driving through the vicinity of the Bass Straits and southern New South
Wales. Each boat always hopes they will be ahead of or behind the
"Southerly Buster" when it hits with winds in the 40-50 knot range. This
has always been one of the inherent dangers of sailing in the Tasman Sea
and the Bass Straits and this year was no exception. That is one of the
reasons that the Australian Yachting Federation safety regulations are much
more stringent than those contained in the ORC Special Regulations.
The meteorologist providing the weather briefing for the Sydney-Hobart this
year has been presenting this briefing for several years and has done the
race himself several times. This year he forecast the usual Southerly
Buster with winds in the 40 to 50 knot range sometime during the second day
of the race. What he did not and could not predict accurately was the
intensity of the winds in the "Southerly Buster" this year, such is the
accuracy of weather forecasting. Even the Captain of the Australian Navy
Frigate that rescued some of the personnel off one of the racing yachts
said on national television that he was monitoring all the weather reports
and none of them forecast the intensity of the storm that hit the fleet
this year. The fleet knew they were headed into a storm and each
owner/skipper had to make his own decision whether to seek shelter or
continue to race.
During the race, there were a great number of EPIRBs going off throughout
the storm. Some from racing yachts others from fishing boats and other
vessels caught in the maelstrom. The problem was one of how to identify
which ones were from which boats? One of the things the CYCA will look at
for the future is requiring EPIRBs with identification signals. Only one
boat in the race this year activated an EPIRB with an identification
signal. The Sydney 41 B-52, was identified immediately when their EPIRB was
activated and the search teams were able to correlate that to their
distress call by radio, thereby eliminating the need for further search for
that vessel. Unfortunately, if every crew member is wearing individual
EPIRBs and they all go off, the numbers can be very large, creating another
problem for search and rescue teams.
There will be a complete investigation conducted by the CYCA and there will
no doubt be some changes made in the safety and communication procedures.
However, there is no question that the Sydney-Hobart Race will continue. If
you did attempt to legislate race organizers on when they should or should
not hold the race, I can assure you that there would still be a group of
independent Australian yachtsmen who would set out at 1300 on every Boxing
Day (December 26) from Sydney to Hobart, with or without the sanction of
any official body, just as they did in 1944. After all, offshore racing is
just like climbing dangerous mountains. When asked by the public why we do
it, the reply is the same as the mountain climbers "because it is there!"
Rule 4 was not written to "protect" race organizers, it was written to
recognize that sailors are an independent lot and will do just what they
please and when they please, when it comes to sailing into the face of
danger offshore. Therefore it is an inherent law of the sea and a racing
rule of sailing that the captain is responsible for the safety of his
vessel and crew. That is the way it has been and the way it should
continue. -- Ken Morrison
1999 WORLD SAILING CHAMPIONSHIPS - Melbourne, Australia
The racing starts on January 1 at the 1999 World Sailing Championships in
Melbourne, Australia. At present, the total number of boats is 1174 and
competitor numbers are at 1624. We are expecting another 103 boats in
various classes. This would give final figures of 1239 boats and 1756
competitors. To date there are 57 countries represented.
World Champion Ben Ainslie, Australia's Michael Blackburn, Finn Roope
Suomalianen and Brazil's Robert Scheidt are all among those who will be
fighting for the honours at Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron. In the Soling,
the top 10 has also entered, including Georgi Shaiduko and his crew from
Russia, Ukraine's Sergie Pichugin and Germany's Jochen Schuemann.
The 470s will have a strong fleet and the Australian contingent will be
heartened by this week's Australian championships - see our story on this
page for details. Nine out of the top 10 ISAF ranked 470 women crews are
confirmed. The Europe women will be led by current world number one
Carolijn Brouwer of the Netherlands.
Confirmed for the Finn class are Belgium's Sebastien Godefroid, Atlanta
gold medallist and Finn Gold Cup winner Mateusz Kusznierewicz and Sweden's
Actual entries have exceeded projected fleet sizes in eight 99 Worlds
classes. In the 49er, 85 boats have entered, five more than the projected
number, while in the Laser Masters, there are 228 entries, where only 140
were expected. The 470 men's fleet is currently running at 84 entries, 14
more than expected and the Europe women at 93 - 13 more than projected.
Event website: http://99worlds.org/
ATTENTION YACHT CLUBS AND RACE ORGANIZERS
Pacific Yacht Embroidery has a program to supply you with regatta apparel
at a guaranteed profit. Help offset your regatta costs by selling apparel
at your event. There is no risk to you and no event is too small to qualify
for this program. Call Frank Whitton (619-226-8033) for details on how this
can put dollars in your pocket and a quality product on the racers back.
(The following is an excerpt from DEFENCE 2000, which is available from
John@roake.gen.nz -- US $48 per year.)
AMERICA ONE, Paul Cayard's syndicate, has shipped the '95 Louis Vuitton
Cup finalist, oneAustralia, to Auckland, joining the Swiss FAST2000
syndicate which recently unloaded the former FRA-40. All told this brings
to eight the number of IACC yachts in Auckland. These are Prada (2), Young
America (1), America True (1), Team NZ (2), AmericaOne (1) and Fast2000
(1), The Swiss are outfitting their boat in the open. There is no building
yet (?) on their compound.
FAST 2000 -- The Swiss are now out practising in the Gulf on a daily basis.
The crew, under the guidance of Marc Pajot, helmsman Jochen Schumann and
tactician Enrico Chieffi have training sessions well into top gear. The
team faces a busy period. Christmas and New Year's celebrations are likely
to be reduced to a minimum! "Gathering as much local information and
knowledge as possible is an essential part of our preparation," says
Project Manager Marc Pajot. "The FAST 2000 design team has almost finalized
the plans for their Swiss-made yacht and construction will begin in late
THE SPANISH CHALLENGE Adopting the lowest of profiles, we have found it
difficult to establish communication with the management of the challenge.
Information just to hand reports that Pedro Campos has been confirmed as
skipper. He is an experienced America's Cup skipper. The syndicate is now
fully funded, and plans to mount a two boat campaign with construction due
to start in the immediate future. ." - John Roake
LETTERS TO THE CURMUDGEON
Letters may be edited for clarity, space (250 words max) or to exclude
-- From John Welty -- I agree with Dave Irish, user pays makes sense. But,
it is ironic that the guys on the boat that are making money don't pay.
-- From Charlie Arms ( reply to Scott MacLeod) - You can pick up a personal
EPRIB at West Marine for around $250. Only downfall is that they must be
manually turned on.
-- From Paul Cayard, Skipper AmericaOne -- On behalf of AmericaOne, I would
like to offer our sincerest condolences to the families and friends of the
sailors who perished during the recent Sydney-Hobart Race. The risks
involved in Ocean Racing were acutely manifested in this race. As one who
has thought a lot about these risks, it is very humbling to witness what
-- From Nick Longhurst -- There is no question that races like the
Sydney-Hobart should continue. While every sailor worth his salt is deeply
saddened by the deaths which occurred this year, these unfortunate events
should be treated as learning experiences both for competitors and
organizing committees. What is needed is a full inquiry so we may learn
what we can for the next time.
Most certainly the lesson of Winston Churchill is clear -- an old boat,
quite possibly too old, older sailors whom one would presume were less
physically able to take care of themselves when the going got extreme. One
helmsman died of a heart attack, one could submit that it could happen
under any stressful condition. We should learn the lessons -- greater
preparation - a rule which promotes stronger boats worthy of the title
"offshore" and an increased level of safety in safety equipment.
We all spend good money on rafts and there is no reason why they could not
be made more stable and easier to deploy. What we have now is old
technology. I'm sure survival suits would have been pretty useful too.
That's something else which could be mandated by RC's. When I get on a race
boat, for a race or the delivery home, I am mindful of the risks. I look at
the boat and the crew and make the decision to go based on my level of
comfort. What happens after that is in nature's hands and that, after all,
is why we sail.
-- From Glenn McCarthy -- Offshore boats should be strong, equipped
appropriately and crewed by people to handle the conditions that MAY be
presented to them on the race course. Offshore has a book of safety
regulations that buoy-racing types typically don't need the same level of
preparedness. We get lulled into a false sense of security with many years
of moderate weather and then surprised by the big bang, which shouldn't be
a surprise at all.
The problem is, no one has had the guts to step up to the plate to
determine what is the definition of an "Offshore" boat. There are
"Offshore" events where S2-7.9's, J-24's and Melges 24's meet the
requirements of the race. Does that qualify them as an "Offshore" boat?
Letting them in increases the participation (offsetting the decline in
participation) and increases the entry fees.
Fast is in fact fun, the Cracker Jack boxes that are being built today to
eliminate weight down to the minimum is fine for buoy racing. Prudent RC's
send these boats in when a weather system is going to severely damage these
boats. It is clear that they do not belong in true offshore tests. I'd
consider a Swan as an "Offshore" boat. I would take one out today in the
conditions presented in the 1998 Sydney-Hobart. I'd definitely take a pass
on sailing on any Cracker Jack boxes in a true Offshore event. I know that
my life depends on the strength of the boat.
Keep the RC out of the equation.
-- From Tim Prophit -- Rule 4 should continue to exist as it is. In
today's world of blaming others for our misfortunes, (with the intent of
collecting for being wronged), and especially in the US, where we are fast
becoming a "victimized" society, it is rare we get an opportunity to decide
anything for ourselves. This is why those who are opposed to mandatory PFD
If, in this age of heightened liability, we impose on the RC the
responsibility to call off a race AND eliminate Rule 4, we risk the day
where we don't race because someone might get sued because someone racing
might get injured.
At some point we need to let common sense and personal responsibility stay
where it belongs - with the skippers and crews.
VOLVO YOUTH SAILING WORLDS
Racing is now underway at the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championships,
with all four classes (Laser, 420, Hobie 16 and Mistral) competing. With
good conditions in False Bay, the Race Committee is aiming for 3 races in
all classes today.
Nautica Cup Results top five so far:
|1. France || 87 points
|2. ||Great Britain ||79 points
|3. ||Israel ||73 points
|4. ||Germany ||51 points
|5. ||Australia ||44 points
|22. ||USA ||20 points
Event website: http://sailing.org/rsa/98youthworlds/
Standings (distance to finish in parenthesis) CLASS I: 1.Soldini (211) 2.
Golding (405) 3. Thiercelin (657) 4. Autissier (670) CLASS II; 1. Mouligne
(674) 2. Garside (1133) 3. Van Liew (1496) 4. Yazykov (1772)
Event website: http://www.aroundalone.com
THE CURMUDGEON'S OBSERVATIONS
Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.