Despite the horror stories, I’m ready for my first Hobart race<


Source: The Australian

Lisa Ratcliff aboard Kialoa II as she prepares for her first Rolex Sydney-Hobart race

Lisa Ratcliff aboard Kialoa II as she prepares for her first Rolex Sydney-Hobart race

Mountainous waves and winds of 90 knots howling through the rigging like the sound of screaming animals are etched forever in my husband’s memory bank from the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race of 1998. Their broken boat, Mercedes IV, was one of 44 from 115 starters to limp across the Derwent River finish line to a sombre welcome and the news that sailing mates had perished.

During that race I had my own perfect storm going on. I was part of the event media team, until the first of six total fatalities when to my relief the Australian Maritime Safety Authority took over the co-ordination, six months pregnant with child No 1 and my husband and father-in-law were competing.

Christmas is customarily a time of winding back but three days out from my debut Sydney-Hobart the excitement level is peaking, and Boxing Day is closing in too quickly.

The event has been a pivotal time of the year for me since 1996 and only now, at 47, I’m about to embark on a first-hand experience of the southern hemisphere’s greatest ocean classic. Instead of reporting on the twists and turns and following family and friends, I’ll be going to sea with my bluewater comrades.

So why this year? The inspiration came largely from my 18-year-old who this year bravely took herself to South America for a seven month off-track gap year. Her adventurous spirit sparked the idea, and I had the perfect entree.

I put the call out to friends and colleagues via social media and the response came from 200 metres away, across Pittwater on Sydney’s northern beaches. Elvina Bay’s Patrick Broughton and his UK-based brother Keith were planning to bring the 1971 line honours winner back to the Sydney-Hobart start line 46 years on, and they were looking for someone who could both crew and tell Kialoa II’s rich story.

Following a three-month delivery to Australia from the UK via the Cape of Good Hope, the boat arrived into Sydney in late November, where it was stripped of cruising gear and turned into a racing yacht — not like the current 100-foot line honours beasts which are all composite construction and carbon fibre — but of a 1960s kind.

Crews of those four supermaxis will be slumming it in the comfort and food department, sleeping on wet sails and perched on a hard gunwale for hours at a time being fire-hosed and eating protein bars and freeze-dried food in between mouthfuls of saltwater. Kialoa II’s crew meanwhile will be sleeping in beds and pipe cots and served hot and hearty pre-made meals. There’s even talk of a roast dinner baked from scratch.

I’m one newbie among a crew of 18 with 177 Hobart races combined and more curious about the fatigue of four-hourly watches and the possibility of seasickness than worried about the risks.

I trust the seamanship of my crewmates and if there’s a yacht that can ride out a nasty Bass Strait surprise it’s this beautiful 45-tonner designed by the enduring Sparkman and Stephens team and built in aluminium, a modern material for its time.

We aren’t invincible, but due to the weight and hull shape we’ll cut through waves rather than slamming into them.

There’s nothing untoward in the long-range forecast and the fleet seems set for running conditions, which will favour the lighter planing boats on handicap.

Months have been spent scouring sailing forums and reaching out to the inner sanctum of the private Sydney-Hobart club, including my father-in-law Bill Ratcliff who is about to embark on his 49th journey south, to know what to wear and pack. I’ve got three layers of purpose-made apparel plus personal and safety gear including lifejacket with Automated Identification System (AIS) tracking, Personal Locator Beacon and three-tether harness for clipping on when on deck.

The fundamental rule is do not leave the boat without permission.

Completing the Sea and Safety Survival Course at the insistence of the second female crew on the boat, Genevieve White from Marine SafetyWorks, was both a comfort and an awakener. Memories of ’98 and being inside a soggy life raft with nine men at the Qantas training pool in the dark under the sprinklers, minus wind and swell, rammed home the safety aspect.

They are a big-hearted team on Kialoa II, for taking me on and for their sense of community. We have partnered with Movember and there are some impressive 1970s-style moustaches on board, in keeping with the era of the boat’s last 628nm crossing and ’71 line honours win in a time of three days and 12 hours.

Our primary goal is to beat that result. My ambition is to be safely blooded into one of those bucket-list items only a few have, and for Kialoa II to carry us proudly to the finish line off Battery Point.

You can track Kialoa II and the entire fleet via the race website and throughout the race on the boat’s Facebook page @kialoa2.


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