One of the things that many racing crew love about sailing is that we rarely run out of new experiences – even those who have been racing around the eastern Australian coast for more years than they would possibly like to admit.
After more than 50 years of ocean racing, Roger Hickman and his delivery crew onboard Wild Rose hit a whale for his first time on their journey home from the recent Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race.
'We were about 15 miles offshore,' said Hickman. 'But the shock to the boat was as if we ran aground. Even though I knew it was highly unlikely, the thought that we’d hit the bricks or another boat definitely went through my mind.'
The other off-watch crew reported that Hickman shot out of his bunk after the first blow only to be knocked to the floor when the 1985 Bob Oatley commissioned ‘Wild Oats’ hit the whale for a second time. Built by McConaghy, the old Oats definitely proved to be strong.
'The boys on deck had just pointed out a seal off the bow and were commenting that it was unusual to see one at 29 degrees latitude. Next thing they knew, there were two quick blows to the boat and they turned behind to see a 20 odd foot calf flap its tail as it was spat out the back.'
'The CYCA (Cruising Yacht Club of Australia) safety briefing before the race warned all of the fleet that there were a lot of whales out there this season,' he said. 'We’d certainly seen our fair share of them breaching spectacularly during the race and on the way back home. However hitting one while under motor certainly questions the theory that they can hear that we are sharing their waterway.'
On arriving back at the CYCA, diver Hayden was doing his rounds and jumped in to check out whether there was any damage to the boat. He reported some slight damage to the keel as well as questionable paintwork around the rudder. From the damage it appears that the whale struck the boat high up on the keel and touched the hull.
Overall the boat, and hopefully the whale, survived to tell another story for another day. All crew safely back in the bar felt very sorry for the whale.
Wild Rose at Southport Yacht Club 2011 - Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race