Exceptional weather conditions blast Port Fairy race

Trybooking.com sailing into the storm - ORCV Melbourne to Port Fairy Race
Grant Dunoon
The ORCV Port Fairy race started out in ideal conditions and all boats and crew were prepared for a strong southwestly change which was predicted to hit the fleet around 19:00hrs on Friday night. However, once the fleet was around Cape Otway the wind hung in the northwest corner and intensified to storm conditions - only swinging to the west later.

Sustained storm force winds and wild seas continued to hammered the fleet for hours in the second half of the race. In these conditions crews were hanging on and making little progress in the strong headwinds. The predicted shift to the southwest never eventuated and would have enabled boats to ease the sheets, reducing the pressure on crew and gear, giving a more stable angle to steer the boats in the mounting seas.

This 65 nautical mile leg of the race from Cape Otway to Port Fairy crosses the boundary between Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean. Here the big swells from the deeper southern ocean meet the shallower waters of Bass Strait and can create very treacherous seas in strong winds.

As the wind picked up many boats were forced to retire with gear failure and turned back to Port Phillip Bay or preceded under jury rig or motor to the nearest safe port.

Don Watson, skipper of Dry White reports winds of 40 to 50 knots with wind gusts up to 70 knots for over four hours. They managed to keep inching towards Port Fairy and took out winning places in all four categories as the only finishing boat. Don explained 'this was exceptional weather conditions! Dry White was in survival mode where completing the race became incidental to getting the crew and boat safely to port'.

Crew member Sally Williams from The Secretary, which was forced to retire, said 'at 35 knots we were managing but came unstuck at 57 knots and already under jury rig due to hydraulic problems with the backstay. The boat had limited steerage and was only making half a knot so the Skipper decided to turn back to the 'Heads'.

The Secretary was down to three reefs in the main and had the headsail furled when the hydraulic backstay failed. This put enormous pressure on the mast and rig and then when the batten cars jammed in the main track, as they were further reducing sail, they were forced to cut the main free with a knife and ditch it in the heaving sea. There was a tense moment when they struggled to release the huge flogging main still held by the wire outhaul halyard, until fellow crew member, Rosie Colahan, eventually cut it free with a hacksaw.

Dry White, Slinky Malinky, Bandit, Alien and Trybooking.com, are now safely tied up in the Port Fairy river. Magazan is tied up in Apollo Bay harbour. Another ORCV member boat called Young Ones, who was not an official race entrant, and had intended to have a leisurely cruise in company with the race fleet, is also safely tied up in Port Fairy. Yoko retired earlier in the race and along with Spirit of Downunder, The Secretary and Dekadence are all back inside Port Phillip Bay.

The six crew of Inception, having been plucked from the water by the crew of Trybooking.com, are pleased to be ashore and are being well cared for by the members of the Port Fairy Yacht Club.

During the storm last night Inception took-on water and sank about seven nautical miles west of the aptly named Ship Wreck Coast; approximately halfway between Cape Otway and Warnambool.

A big salute to the crew of Trybooking.com who responded heroically to the time honoured lore of the sea - to assist anyone in distress.