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SCUTTLEBUTT #248 - December 31, 1998

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 realistic."

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 of Sydney.

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

(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 Frederik Loof.

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:

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 -- 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 January."

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

-- 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 has happened.

-- 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 rules are.

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.

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. 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:

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:

Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.