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The Companionway Hatch - Australia Newsletter


The Companionway Hatch

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Companionway Hatch. - photo © John Curnow

Dear Recipient Name

It gets hammered into you. Seems especially so by officious Sailing Masters, should you momentarily pause with your hands on the coaming, either side of the opening, even if you are just using the back of your head to slide said hatch all the way open for ease of egressing. "There are two kinds of people who stand in the companionway. Owners and cabooses!" Yet perhaps prudence indicates there might be a third classification: those who pop their head out to check on the conditions.

It is kind of like those trusty idioms that is bordering on an oxymoron. "I'll tell you who has won the Sydney to Hobart when the boats are tied up at Constitution Dock!" Then there's, "The weather will be exactly what it is when the sails go up."

The many thoughts of it all probably came about from the hammering that Sydney has had over the last week or so, in the lead up to the big race on Boxing Day. On Wednesday night, Sydney got a reminder of just how changeable, and furious, Summer weather in Australia can be. Thursday yielded some hail of utterly epic proportions. They were about the size of cricket balls, which for those in the Americas, Asia and Continental Europe (i.e. places the world's largest empire did not reach), is just a tad smaller than a baseball.

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So over the last week, the overall forecast for the Sydney to Hobart has lightened off somewhat, and now has some very unidentifiable stuff in the crossing from New South Wales to Tasmania. It means the Line Honours contenders have had easily six to seven hours added to their elapsed times. Over the last decade or so, I have always countenanced that Summer in the South East of Australia is a time of changeability, and often Mother Nature affects this with either haste or venom, and more often than not, by delivering lashings of both just like having both brandy cream, and ice cream with your Christmas Pudding! You don't need it, but you take it anyway...

I knew many sailors that were in the ill-fated 1998 race, but I was not one of them that year. However, the really interesting ones are those that I have met afterwards, for they have become really good friends. Some lost people off their boat, others made it through to Hobart, and some completed that other very popular race from the 90's - the Sydney to Eden! Yet out of it all, the big thing that comes through to me is that none of it has stopped them, and I think that is what we have to remember when taking on man's oldest challenge... Good luck to each and every sailor in this year's race.

Wild Oats XI in the Grinders Coffee SOLAS Big Boat Challenge yesterday afternoon...  - photo © Beth Morley /
Wild Oats XI in the Grinders Coffee SOLAS Big Boat Challenge yesterday afternoon...  - photo © Beth Morley /

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OK. So what do you say when you have secured Line Honours an amazing eight times, held the record for the 628nm journey, won it on corrected time too, and even taken out all three in the same year?! Well you get some new North Sails on board to balance out the sail plan since you sewed that new bow section on, and made the forefoot really big. One of them is a kite for reaching in mid-strength type airs, and another is a massive headsail (kind of Code Zero type affair) for heading uphill in the light.

It is interesting, for if nothing else, it all confirms the hitherto gospel, which is that Comanche likes a blow, especially anywhere off the breeze, Wild Oats XI is the all-rounder (and I'll avoid the cricket parlance for the sake of those from non-test nations), and her earlier, near-sistership, Black Jack with her tiny bulb of unobtanium, is the light wind destroyer!

The two R/P pencils - Black Jack astern of Wild Oats XI - photo © Andrea Francolini
The two R/P pencils - Black Jack astern of Wild Oats XI - photo © Andrea Francolini

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Wild Oats XI's Skipper, Mark Richards commented, "We're going to be very competitive if it is VMG running, no matter if it's blowing five knots or 35 knots! If we have to reach out to avoid a Southerly change for like five to ten hours, then it is going to be harder, but at least now we have more options in the wardrobe. We are expecting a very good run for three to four hundred miles, and right now Wild Oats XI is flying off the breeze, faster than she ever has."

An enthusiastic Richards added, "It has taken a couple of years to understand it all, since we did the [Ed: major] modifications to her. Certainly having a proper, brilliantly-designed reaching, and downwind inventory is really helping with that. We are probably in the best shape we have ever been! We are certainly set up as the all-round boat, so if the light air transitions occur, then we will be well placed to handle all of that. Whoever wins this race will have their work cut out for them, that's for sure!"

Finally then, a short one and in to the bottom mark, and a big thank you to the readers for an absolutely wonderful year. Cheers. May you and your clan have a tremendous, and safe Christmas. May the New Year not just be happy, but plentiful, rewarding, and enjoyable, too. If that sort of thing is not your bag, then please have a great holiday period, and we will be here for you, the whole way through.

Lisa Blair returns after circumnavigating Australia - photo © Ceilocam
Lisa Blair returns after circumnavigating Australia - photo © Ceilocam

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Right oh here today there are some gems for you to review. We have information about the Hobart (of course we do), the game upon games that is the AC, and the Dutch become the sixth Challenger for said Auld Mug, Ocean Respect Racing clean up Sydney Harbour ahead of the big race, Para Sailing, RORC Caribbean 3600, M32s, Lisa Blair made it all the way around Australia before the storms and became the first female to circumnavigate the largest island on the planet, Finns, Sail Melbourne, J/70s, IMOCA, the event formerly known as the Volvo (yes, definitely playing on the Prince theme there, Basil Brush), the Golden Globe Race, and certainly there is much, much more.

Remember, if your class or association is generating material, make sure we help you spread your word, and you can do that by emailing us. Should you have been forwarded this email by a friend, and want to get your very own copy in your inbox moving forward, then simply follow the instructions on our newsletter page, where you can also register for different editions.

Finally, keep a weather eye on Sail-World. We are here to bring you the whole story from all over the world...

John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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