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SCUTTLEBUTT #249 - January 4, 1999

This is the toughest writing assignment I've ever faced. It involves your sport being your passion and that passion being your career. It involves your sport coming face to face with fatalities.

After 30 years of reporting on the Sydney to Hobart - and a lifetime of sailboat racing that has included three starts and finishes in the classic - I am, like so many of the competitors, stretched to the limit of my emotional capacity. Grown men, rugged and highly experienced racing yachtsmen, have been in tears on the dock here in Hobart.

It happened with almost every crew that arrived at Constitution Dock. It was not until they got to the dock, saw family and friends and heard of the death and carnage that had happened over the past three days, that they could completely comprehend the magnitude of events. Men hugged men. They have survived a cyclone sent from Satan.

For me, being on shore and knowing how horrendous things really were in Bass Strait, then trying to relay that in a composed fashion to the world, was not a pleasant experience. Personally I was trying to cope with my own emotional burden. Friends were the subject of searches. Were they dead or alive? At one stage you could look down the barrel at more than 20 sailors possibly being lost.

Then there was the fielding of a flood of telephone calls from anxious wives and friends. I had to try to assure them that everything would be OK, that they should have faith. It was almost as tough as being in the race. Those people desperately needed to know if their husband, father, sister, son or brother was coming home.

To speak with Robyn Rynan and confirm for her that her young son Michael - who was aboard Winston Churchill - had been found alive in a liferaft was a bittersweet experience. I will never forget her torrent of tears, wavering voice and sobbing sighs of relief. It brought a realisation of what family bonds are all about. At the same time there were the thoughts of what other families - those that didn't know the fate of their loved ones - must be going through.

Yesterday there was the lengthy and very emotional telephone conversation with Steve Kulmar, helmsman aboard Rob Kothe's Sword of Orion, the yacht that lost English Olympic yachtsman Glyn Charles to the elements when mid Bass Strait.

Kulmar says unashamedly that he is a changed man with a totally new attitude to life and ocean yacht racing: "My new seaboots and wet weather gear are on Sword of Orion. She has sunk. There is no better place for them. I will never do another Hobart race."

That statement came from a man who has done 17 Sydney to Hobarts plus five Fastnet races and tens of thousands of more miles offshore.

It was chilling listening to his description of how Sword of Orion, having retired from the race and being on a course towards Eden, was rolled 360 degrees by a breaking wave estimated to be about 10 metres high.

The crew of Wayne Millar's B-52 almost suffered a similar fate. It was rolled and stayed upside down for between three and four minutes. "I had eight guys trapped inside a sinking yacht. The cabin roof was our floor," said Millar. "We even had time to go to the radio and try to send out a May Day."

Mark Vickers and Russell Kingston, who were on deck, were trapped under the upturned hull. Vickers had to release his harness and swim out. A wave immediately washed him away from the hull. He had time to swim back and inspect the keel and rudder areas for damage before B-52 righted itself. Kingston managed to get his head to the surface and hang onto a stanchion.

Not surprisingly, the hull suffered considerable structural damage. Some crew thought the yacht was lost and wanted to get into the liferaft. Millar and crewman John Byrne - both very experienced sailors - had to remind them of the rule that you always apply to entering a liferaft is that you step up into it. They stayed with the yacht and managed to get it back to shore.

There is one good thought for all those who suffered in this race. Soon the pain and worst memories will go away. The sport will be better because of what has happened and the Great Race will go on.

Today though we can only think of those who lost their lives, their families and friends. - Excerpt from a story in Grand Prix Sailor by Rob Mundle. For Mundle's full story:

More than 5000 people paid tribute to six sailors who lost their lives during the storm which hit this year's Telstra Sydney to Hobart fleet in the Tasman Sea. The memorial service, held at Constitution Dock, Hobart, was attended by crews from the 43 yachts which reached Hobart from a fleet of 115 starters, race organisers and volunteers, rescuers and rescue authorities, and the Tasmanian sailing fraternity.

Led by Monsignor Phillip Green and the Reverend David O'Neal, the service acknowledged the sailing life and contributions made by the six sailors, Bruce Guy and Phil Skeggs of Launceston, Jim Lawler, Mike Bannister and John Dean from Sydney, and Englishman, Glyn Charles.

Guy and Skeggs, from the Tasmanian yacht Business Post Naiad, and Lawler and Bannister, crewmen on the Winston Churchill, died in the maelstrom created by a storm sweeping through Bass Strait and into the Tasman Sea off the New South Wales South Coast on December 27. John Dean, also from the yacht Winston Churchill and Glyn Charles, a crewman from the yacht Sword of Orion, were also lost.

Nine crewmen from the Sword of Orion flew to Hobart for the service, alongside an almost empty Constitution Dock, the haven for finishers of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race since 1945. With a gentle sea breeze blowing up the Derwent River, conditions contrasted starkly with the storm force southerly gales which kicked up treacherous 6-8 metre seas against the strong south-flowing East Australian Current.

Eulogies were given by the Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Hugo van Kretschmar, Steve Kulmar, from Sword of Orion, and Richard Winning, skipper of Winston Churchill. In a moving tribute to the sailors, Commodore van Kretschmar said: "We will miss your always; we will remember you always; we will learn from the tragic circumstances at your passing."

"May the everlasting voyage have now embarked on be bless with calm seas and gentle breezes. May you never have to reef or change a headsail in the night. May you bunk always be warm and dry." At the conclusion of the service, representatives from each boat cast rosettes into Constitution Dock as muted bells sounded from nearby St. David's Cathedral. - Peter Campbell

Regatta results: IMS OVERALL 1. AFR MIDNIGHT RAMBLER, Hicks 35, Ed Psaltis/Bob Thomas Robert 2. AUSMAID, Farr 47, Kevan Pearce, 3. RAGAMUFFIN, Farr 50, Syd Fischer, IMS DIVISION A 1. SAYONARA, Farr 80, Larry Ellison, IMS DIVISION B 1.AUSMAID, Farr 47, Kevan Pearce IMS DIVISION C: 1. YENDYS, Beneteau (Farr) 50, Geoffrey Ross, IMS DIVISION D: 1. AFR MIDNIGHT RAMBLER, IMS DIVISION E: 1. MARGARET RINTOUL II, Sparkman & Stephens 48 Richard Purcell, IMS DIVISION F: 1. MISTY, S&S 34, Bryan Clague

Sydney - Hobart website:

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

-- From Geoff Stagg -- I agree with the comment of Ken Morrison exclusive from Hobart and thank him for his update. I have done 15 Hobarts between 1971 and 1997 pulling out of four including the '85 race when 104 boats out of 150 retired with one death. I have great admiration for the skills and commitment to duty of the search and rescue teams, without them it could have been worse. From my vantage point, they did a heck of a job and they should be suitably honored.

This race can be more difficult than the Whitbread which I have done. The combination of a three-knot south going current into a southerly buster on top of the swells coming through the Bass Straight can be horrifying. Picking between going three days upwind in a Hobart race southerly buster versus three weeks going downwind in a Whitbread 60 in the Southern Ocean, I pick the latter any day!

Ken is spot on with all he said. The CYCA and Australian Yachting Federation will do a terrific job of reviewing what happened so that the race and sailing can be made safer but the challenge of man against the elements is fundamental in all sailors and what this race is about. Our lives are regulated enough now without a government department telling sailors when and how they can start an ocean race. I am sure they would all want the race to continue with the ultimate responsibility of racing being that of the owner and skipper.

-- From Chris Welsh -- I favor relying on competitors to decide whether they want to go or not - not having the race committee pull the plug. Too many places in our life we are herded like sheep at the mercy of anonymous lawsuit and insurance company restrictions on what we do.

Weather is too unpredictable as well - if we start canceling races, a false sense of security will build up - someone else is taking responsibility for the decisions, obviating personal responsibility. By the same token, many races will be cancelled unnecessarily. This topic has been debated before, with one ironic outlook that canceling races will increase RC liability for the ones they don't cancel. Ski resorts have seen this liability grow - in days of old, skiing was considered risky, and they had no liability - now, by advertising and promoting the family sport of skiing, they have come into increasing liability to insure a safe experience for all.

-- From Scott Collinson -- Thanks for the opportunity to voice our thoughts on this tragic event. Gale warnings were out anywhere from 24 hours to 1 hour before the start, the committee could have postponed for a day or two. I hope the thought of messing with the traditional December 26th start, or getting to Hobart for New Year's, didn't discourage the committee from putting up the AP until this system had passed.

The 1982 Newport to Bermuda race was postponed for two days to let a severe depression go through. At the time, we all joked about how the committee was being, "overcautious, let's get out there, we're all big boys, we can handle it" deep down though, I think everyone thought this was a wise move. We all still had a great sail to Bermuda and the Goslings tasted just as good two days late.

I know that people are busy and have schedules to stick to and flights to catch, but I'm sure that anyone would have traded an extra one or two days out of their lives to avoid the horror and tragedy that has occurred. My deepest sympathies to the families of those lost at sea.

Why didn't this Race Committee postpone?

-- From Helen Johnstone Falk -- First of all, my condolences go out to all of the families whose loved ones died in the Sydney Hobart Race. Secondly, I believe the ENTIRE yachting community (individual sailors, yacht clubs, associations, federations, etc.) need to pull their resources together and identify and define the "limits" of the word "extreme" in the sport of sailing.

There is no doubt that sailboat racing has definitely been pushed to the "extreme". And, the question is how much further can the sport be pushed until we all realize that it has gone too far? Maybe it already has. The "extreme" high altitude climbing community experienced this question after the Mount Everest disaster, which is being documented by IMAX in theatres throughout the world today.

It can be a thrill to push the extreme and survive. As an individual, I love it for its' challenges and rewards. But, AGAIN, how far should the "extreme" be pushed? To what extent should organizing groups or race committees put a large body of people into harm's way?

I don't have the answers, so I will simply ask the questions. Do "extreme" sports go beyond the extreme (sounds redundant) for the sake of media attention and sponsorship dollars, which is what happened with Mount Everest? Or, are "extreme" sports beyond the ability of any authority to control, because there will always be a number of individuals wanting to push the "limits"?

-- From James Nichols -- OK, I may be really stupid (ex-Star crew - it happens), but why is it a big deal to have identification signals for EPIRBS? Is this some kind of popularity contest? Silly me, I'd rescue on a first-come-first-served basis ... and if you're successful, you'll find out which vessels the EPIRBS belong to in the process. But then, what do I know.

And, similarly, on the subject of what a big problem it would be if all crew members had individual EPIRBS and they all wound up in the water and all the EPIRBS wound up going off ... am I missing something again? Isn't the EPIRBS going off the SYMPTOM of the PROBLEM, namely, that all these souls are in the water, instead of on the boat where they're supposed to be, and isn't that the whole idea of wearing the ... oh, skip it. What do I know?

-- Colin Butterworth -- From those early days when the navigation station was a set of tables and sextant the 'Hobart' has provided thousands of men and women with the addictive experience of achievement.

Under the vigilant management of The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia the 'Hobart' has been globally recognised as a premier blue water event. No vessel has been included in the starting fleet which has not first met, rigidly enforced scantlings, equipment and stability standards. No vessel has been permitted to compete unless crew competence has been assessed and validated.

More than 3 million crew miles have been sailed in The Hobart Race since '45 and every hard won mile was sailed by every hand in the knowledge that, without risk there will be no reward.

Sadly, like so many of lifes' challenges there will be casualties and this years' Hobart race has added six names to that roll of honour.

Wally Russell Yahoo 1984
Peter Taylor Flying Colours 1989
John Dean Winston Churchill 1998
Mike Bannister Winston Churchill 1998
Jim Lawler Winston Churchill 1998
Glyn Charles Sword of Orion 1998
Bruce Guy Business Post Naiad 1998
Phil Skeggs Business Post Naiad 1998

Absent Friends

Melbourne and its vast Port Phillip bay is presently hosting the largest ever sailing regatta for Olympic and international classes, drawing more than 2000 of the finest sailors from around the world to contest the '99 World Sailing Championships. Not only are the 99 Worlds the biggest regatta of its kind anywhere in the world, it will be Melbourne's most prestigious sailing event since the city hosted the 1956 Olympic Games. Like the 1956 Olympics, clubs around the bay have joined to conduct individual world championship under the umbrella of the 1999 Worlds organisation, based at the Port Melbourne Yacht Club.

In total, 16 World sailing championships will be decided on the bay from January 2-22, seven of them for Olympic classes: Solings, 49ers, Finns, Lasers, Europes, 470 men and 470 women.

The '99 World Sailing Championships are not only significant in their own right, but a vital lead-up and qualifying event for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Almost every medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and every current world champion in these Olympic classes is competing in Melbourne.

The regatta has drawn around 2000 sailors from 57 nations, with other world championships being conducted for international classes: Cadets, Laser Masters, 14ft skiffs, Europe dinghies for men, A class catamarans, Hobie 17 and Hobie 18s.

In the Olympic classes, Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron will host the Lasers from January 7-13, Royal Brighton Yacht Club the Soling fleet racing from January 10-16, followed by the match racing world championship from January 18-22, Sandringham Yacht Club Club will conduct the Finn Gold Cup from January 10-15 , the 49ers will be at the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria from January 10-16.

Europes will be racing at Mornington Yacht Club from January 11-16, with divisions for women as an Olympic class and also for men. The 470 men and 470 women, both Olympic classes, will be competing from Black Rock Yacht Club from January 10-16.

World championships for the spectacular 14ft skiffs will be sailed out of Sandringham Yacht Club from January 7-14, the A-class catamarans will be sailing their world championship at McCrae Yacht Club from January 8-15 following the Open Week Regatta and Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron will run the Hobies from January 9-13. Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron will continue its involvement with Lasers, conducting the Laser Masters world championship from January 17-22.

The seven Olympic classes represent many of the world's finest sailors, seeking the competition of the '99 Worlds as part of their preparation to represent their country at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and win gold. - Peter Campbell

Event website:

Cape Town, South Africa -- The battle for the coveted Nautica Cup is hotting up as only three days' sailing remain in the 1998 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship. A ding-dong battle is developing between France and Great Britain with defending champions France currently leading with 257. Britain is currently on 233 points with Israel on 180 points in third position. The USA team is in 17th place with 57 points.

Event website:

British skipper Mike Golding, whose 60-foot yacht TEAM GROUP 4 suffered extensive damage to its keel and hull when it struck a submerged object off Cape Reinga on Friday, has officially withdrawn from Leg 2. His plans for continuing the race are not yet determined. At the time of the accident, Golding had a 200-mile lead on the fleet.

Leg Two Standings Class I (The top three boats have finished): 1. Soldini 2. Thiercelin 3. Autissier Class II: (distance to finish in parenthesis) 1. Mouligne (finished) 2. Garside (721) 3. Van Liew (836)

Overall standings Class I: 1. Autissier (63d19h29m15s) 2. Thiercelin (64d01h27m14s) 3. Soldini (64d19h39m34s)

Around Alone website:

It's far better to lose in a cause that will someday win, than win in a cause that will ultimately lose.