Paul Atwood’s words and pictures tell the tale of Caliban II’s adventures and ultimate podium finish in the 2013 Sydney Hobart.
Sat 28 Dec 2013, 2000hrs, approx 39* 40′ South. A gale warning strength westerly front is roaring towards a yacht which is heading south as fast as possible seeking some lee protection from Flinders Island. The kite is already down, the main is triple reefed and the no 4 headsail is set.
The front hits and the world as it was disappears in a maelstrom of spray, totally confused seas and a roaring wind which is so loud it’s difficult to hear the shouts of the crew member sitting 15cm away.
Waves crash over the windward bow and midships – green water over the coachhouse sluicing rail sitters aft along the deck and blinding the steerers.
Such was the life for the crew of the GFS yacht Caliban II sailing as (Pennant Hills Ford) in the 2013 69th Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht race, late on Saturday night (28/12) and into Sunday morning (29/12).
Owner/Skipper Ian (Creaky) Creak and Sailing Master Jim Lelliott had assembled a crew and prepped the Beneteau First 47.7 for the race over the previous 8 months.
For the first timers in the crew the start was amazing. 94 boats at 3 start lines charging up the harbour, surrounded by the spectator fleet, towards 2 sets of rounding marks. At the first set, off South Head, boats were almost within touching distance and plenty of salty language was exchanged!
The weather for the first day and a half was light and on the nose which is definitely not to the liking of Caliban II as she slowly slid back through the fleet but then the nor’easter kicked in as forecast and a great spinnaker ride ensued down the southern NSW Coast. The Green Cape reporting point was reached at lunchtime on day 2 (Saturday 28 Dec), and an exhilarating kite ride across Bass Strait began under blue skies.
The steerers were seeking waves to surf and competing for the high score boat speed. The high score lead kept swapping between the drivers, one steerer had Caliban II so well balanced he could raise his arms, hands free off the wheel in exhilaration, as Caliban II drove arrow straight down a wave in the high teens knots. Finally Jim Lelliott caught a great wave and as walls of spray higher than the top life lines hosed from both bows the speedo clicked over to 22.0 knots – not bad for an 11 tonne boat!
Shortly after, Jim found and held speeds over 16.5 knots for what seemed like forever but upwards of 30 seconds anyway. His grin was almost as wide as Bass Strait. The 8 hour ride from Gabo Island to level with the top of Flinders Island was the highlight to that point.
Unfortunately this didn’t last much longer as the W/SW front approached. The sail plan was prepped and the crew prepared to be bounced around. We had been warned before leaving Sydney that the wind speeds down south seem higher than wind dial readings due to the air being colder and denser. After one trip to the mast, the crew returned to the rail convinced it was blowing around 40kts and were astounded to see only high 20’s on the dial.
At the height of the front wind speeds were seen in the low 40kts, steerers periodically looked like they were standing in front of a fire hose and the crew, sitting with their backs to the weather saw waves over their heads into the cockpit or across the boat.
It was cold!
It was really cold – and wet!
It was a “what am I doing here” period!
Time seemed to slow as the crew got colder and wetter, tethers attached to jack lines didn’t hold the crew in place so the second short tethers were attached to lifelines as wind and waves combined to try and push the boat over and wash crew to the low side. As Caliban II continued south past the western end of Banks Strait the sea became a mass of 3-4m waves seemingly competing with each other to be in the same spot at the same time. A “confused sea”
barely describes the 3-4m high washing machine sea state, but eventually……
….the wind slowly lessened (to relatively balmy high 20’s to mid 30 knots) the overcast sky brightened as daylight arrived and damage assessment and repairs began.
As it subsequently turned out Caliban II had a relatively easy passage through the front. Not for us the 50+ knots and 10 metre seas reported by other boats nor any serious damage. Our damage list ran to: No.4 headsail exploded into shreds, the heavy duty half twist shackle at the tack straightening itself into a normal shackle shape in the process. The 1st reef leach line snapped, the remains of the line hiding itself inside the boom, and the initial flogging of the main resulted in 2 mainsail sliders breaking and popping out of the track leading to a tear in the main and, bizarrely, we lost the aft end of the Windex vane.
This damage was on top of breaking the spinnaker pole topping lift and a halyard earlier in the day.
Altogether Caliban II lost approx 5-6 hours at reduced speeds under headsail only while the damage was repaired (except the Windex vane!). Hot drinks and meals were off the menu for 24 hours until later on Sunday (Day 3). Sleeping was difficult with the noise of the wind and water and the boat slamming as she fell off waves.
Sunday night brought little respite despite reduced wind speed and a slowly improving sea state, however it also brought the most incredible marine phosphorescence together with dolphins matching our speed swimming just to leeward about 2 m from the boat. They were like science fiction beings, glowing eerily in the dark with a sparkly trail behind them in the water.
Dawn on Monday (30 Dec) saw Caliban II at Tasman Island / Tasman light – admiring the spectacular coastal scenery and locked in a fierce dual with a Sydney 38 from MHYC, Eleni, sailing as TSA Management. We overtook them at Tasman Light but 10nm later at Cape Raoul TSA Management was back in front and stayed that way all the way across Storm Bay and into the Derwent. However some local knowledge suggested a different line to TSA Management up the Derwent and Caliban II slowly clawed back the deficit. We were less than a boat length apart as we both went for the line – we felt Caliban II had her nose in front but eventually the scorers couldn’t separate us for a dead heat at 4d2h32m52s – not something that happens very often – what a finish!
But the emotional high wasn’t over yet. As we waited for the rubber ducky to lead us to our berth we were asked to do a “fly-by” along the jetty where there were hundreds of spectators watching the finish. The cheering and clapping and waving as we slowly motored passed brought a number of the crew to tears – but wait there’s more……
…looking on the race website standings page a crew member suddenly said ‘We’re 2nd…”. And so it was:
Pennant Hills Ford – ORCi Division 3 – 2nd place – 5 hours behind Wild Rose.
It just doesn’t get any better. The first time in S2H for Creaky and Caliban II and we have a podium finish – what a great race!
Thank you Creaky for the opportunity to do the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and thank you Jim for the truly enormous effort you put into prepping the boat and herding crew. Can we do this again please – same time next year….?
Skipper: Ian Creak
Crew Boss: Jim Lelliott
Crew: Ian Arnold, Paul Atwood, Lance Bryant, Huey James, Ritchie Lees, Andrew Lelliott, Dave North, Glen Sanford, Ian Sanford, Dave Stenhouse