Editor's Note: Tis the season. The dreaded materialistic frenzy that is Christmas is nearly upon us, to be immediately followed (thank God) by the big race to Hobart. The early forecast this year is for a downwind sleigh ride, and Bob Oatley's super-maxi Wild Oats XI may have a good chance at breaking her course record, set just last year, of 1 day, 18 hours, and change. Course records aren't that easy to come by in this race, and two in successive years would be a notable achievement. So I'll be watching developments with interest. Meanwhile, I thought I'd share this account of my one-and-only Sydney-Hobart experience, circa year 2000.
MY RIDE, appropriately enough, was named Antipodes. She wasn't a racing boat, but a dedicated cruiser, a Taswell 56, built in 1991 to a design by Bill Dixon. I had first met her in the Canary Islands in 1992 while bumming around the North Atlantic as pick-up crew.
During my tenure aboard, her owner, Geoff Hill, generous to a fault, shared with me his unique Australian essence, taught me the words to several songs whose lyrics cannot be repeated in polite company, and promised he would one day lure me to the Land of Oz. Her skipper, Glenn Belcher, an unreconstructed rebel from South Carolina, took good care of me and learned me a thing or two about sailing as we voyaged across the Atlantic from the Canaries to the Bahamas.
When Geoff finally decided to keep his promise eight years later, he cut right to the chase. Just a one-line e-mail flickering at me like pornography from across the Internet: Could you would you should you dare do the 2000 Hobart race with me and Cap'n Ahab Belcher and a motley crew of Aussies on good ship Antipodes?
Back in the early days of singlehanded ocean racing, the winners of races like the Vendee Globe and the BOC Challenge were often the guys who slept the least and steered the most. Autopilots were useful in calm to moderate conditions, but once the waves were up you needed a live body on the wheel or tiller to achieve the fastest, smoothest ride. These days, however, the most sophisticated autopilots have "fuzzy logic" software and three-dimensional motion sensors and can steer in strong conditions just as well as, if not better than, most humans.
This sounds like a great excuse to spend less time on the wheel, assuming your boat has such an autopilot, but in the hairiest situations it's still best to have a person in control. Modern autopilots can learn a boat's handling characteristics and can sense a boat's bow or stern rising to a wave, but they can't perceive what's going on around a boat. Once you're in a big seaway where waves are routinely breaking, it's best to have a helmsperson who can see and hear the rough stuff and steer around it. Also, of course, an autopilot needs electricity to function. If you've lost power, or have little to spare, you need a human on the wheel.
Techniques & Tactics
We should note that Stanley Paris, after a bit of a weather delay, finally got away from St. Augustine, Florida, 11 days ago on a solo non-stop round-the-world voyage aboard his custom-built 63-foot cutter Kiwi Spirit. Paris, age 76, is trying to beat the "ghost" of Dodge Morgan by getting around in less than 150 days. He also wants to be the oldest to pull off a non-stop circumnavigation and is trying to do it while burning zero hydrocarbons.
News & Views
Let the record reflect that Pascal Ott and Monique Christmann, the deadbeat French sailors who have plagued the otherwise cruiser-friendly community of Oriental, North Carolina, for the past year have at last moved on. Or rather, they've been dragged on. As has been reported on Oriental's fantastic community website, TownDock, Ott and Christmann and their decrepit steel ketch Primadonna were towed out of the anchorage last month (see photo up top) by a transient Dutch cruiser, Martijn Dijkstra, who left them on a mooring at Morehead City. Most everyone in Oriental was happy to see the last of Primadonna, except for chandlery manager Pat Stockwell, who got stuck with a bad check passed by Ott and sued in small claims court to recover $2,480.42 he lost in the transaction.
Here's a puzzle. It seems Vinnie Tangorra, age 56, an ex-NYC bus driver from Bethpage, Long Island, was en route last week from New York to North Carolina aboard Polaris, a 37-foot sailboat, and was towing a jet-ski, which, according to his brother Ray, was serving as his liferaft. Ray spoke with Vinnie on the phone Wednesday and received a text message Thursday evening, in which Vinnie stated he was off Cape May. Ray tried calling back, but couldn't get through. Friday morning the jet-ski was found adrift off Cape May; later the Coast Guard found Polaris, nine miles from shore, with no one aboard. Coast Guard helicopters and a cutter searched the area Saturday, but found no trace of Vinnie.
Coming soon to stretch of horizon near you. The U.S. Navy has just announced that it has successfully launched an aerial surveillance drone from a submerged submarine. The way it works is this: a) the drone is inserted inside a "Sea Robin" launch vehicle, which in turn is inserted into a Tomahawk missile canister; b) the Tomahawk canister is placed inside a torpedo tube and fired off; c) once outside the sub, the Sea Robin is released from the Tomahawk canister and bobs to the surface, where it looks like a common spar buoy; and finally d) the aerial drone (known as an Experimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System, or XFC UAS, in Navy-speak) shoots off into the air from the floating Sea Robin (as seen in the photo above).
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Offshore Passage Opportunities
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Father & Son Sailing
Cruising Sailor's BB
Good Old Boat
North American Sailor
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