Sailors were thrown overboard and ceilings became floors in upturned yachts as heinous conditions had crews looking to the heavens for help in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual 628 nautical mile race.
Yet more than a thousand yachties made it, and the sense of accomplishment on their weathered faces is enough to make the hairs on your arms stand to attention.
When Bass Strait turned foul on Saturday night, race-fans watched as 41-SUD about-turned north in what appeared to be a move to stand-by the stricken yacht Luna Sea when it lost its steering.
But just minutes after reaching a safe haven at Hobart’s dock today, 41-SUD crewman Geoff Sorensen revealed they were in a whole world of strife as well, battling hurricane force winds and waves double the height of a house.
“When the waves hit it was like someone was on the outside, hitting the hull with a sledgehammer, the whole boat just shuddered,’’ Sorensen said.
Local sailors had warned the New Caledonian crew that when the forecast sou’wester hit, they’d best be prepared.
So when they raced towards the southern edge of Bass Strait, closer and closer to a grey cloud that resembled an atom-bomb exploding, the New Caledonian crew heeded the warning, downsizing their mainsail and opting for a conservative headsail.
They’d hoped to reach the lee of Tasman Island for a bit of protection, but they couldn’t outrace Mother Nature.
“When it hit, it hit quickly, I’d say it covered the final 10 nautical miles in a matter of minutes,” Sorensen marvelled.
“It got to 40, then 50, and it kept building. The highest reading we saw was 67 knots.”
Under helm by skipper Jean-Luc Esplaas, the Archambault 40 was turned due north to allow the crew to collect themselves and make a switch into survival mode.
Just 400 metres away, the same could be said for the crew aboard Luna Sea, when the Hick 35 lost its rudder. Not far from them and in the same conditions were Namadgi and Déjà Vu.
Déjà Vu mastman, Matt Moss, said it was “just heinous.”
Moss said: “I don’t want to do that again, I can tell you now we were very lucky, it was a near miss for a few people here too,’’ he said.
“A massive wave just took the boat over, everyone inside hit the ceiling, and the inside of the boat was like a tornado went through it.
“The guys that were tethered on while driving the boat were literally thrown out of the boat, then as it righted itself it brought them back into the boat. Thank God they were tethered.”
The crew was injured, sick and their spirits were broken. Moss admits they regrouped to consider if it was worth going on.
They did. And with a sense of humour too.
“We were actually hoping we would be last, so if anything we’d at least have the last hoorah, the biggest applause, for the last boat.”
Namadgi, the last boat in the fleet, is expected to make port before tonight’s New Year’s Eve fireworks, while the crew of Luna Sea reached St Helens yesterday morning, under the steam of the Tasmanian Police rescue vessel the Van Diemen, which towed the 35 footer which won the horrendous 1998 Hobart, for over 100 nautical miles.
By Danielle McKay, RSHYR Media