The Rolex Sydney Hobart is known around the world as being a race that can serve up extreme conditions at a moment’s notice. While many sailing fans will remember the infamous 1998 race that resulted in both boats and lives being lost at sea, few will ever hear of the carnage that occurs year in and year out on deliveries back up to mainland Australia. A few days after the 75th edition of the race concluded and the bulk of the fleet began making their way back to Sydney, a large low-pressure system swept over Tasmania and South Australia, creating nuclear wind conditions in the region.
Early on the morning of January 5, three boats ran into major problems and issued mayday calls. First and most notably, the Ker 40 Showtime suffered a keel failure. The keel strut failed at its weld and sent the boat into an immediate capsize. One of the seven crew on board heroically dived below to retrieve the liferaft. Once in the raft, the crew managed to activate their EPIRB and a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). They were fortunately rescued three hours later around 5:30 a.m. All survived.
An important takeaway from this story is that the new keel was designed and constructed by a different naval architect than the yacht’s designer, Jason Ker, as his office was justifiably quick to point out in a press release that went far and wide to the yachting world. Of particular interest to this writer, the keel was of a very similar construction method to the one that nearly killed me during a delivery back to San Francisco 10 years ago on the Aussie-built Warrior’s Wish.
At the same time that the crew on Showtime were getting into a raft and awaiting rescue, the crew of the smallest boat entered in the 75th Rolex Sydney Hobart, the 30-ft sloop Gunrunner, was pulling their rig back on board after being dismasted by a 50-knot gust just 5 miles off the coast. They managed to get the boat back into Eden (in New South Wales), a popular port of refuge for crews who withdraw from the race before entering Bass Strait, or those on a delivery who have just crossed the Strait and need to lick their wounds. Unfortunately for the crew of Gunrunner, they were kicked out of Eden due to the whole place being evacuated due to the bush fires!
Just minutes after Gunrunner’s 3 a.m. dismasting, the Murray 42 Secret Men’s Business issued a call to report two injuries on board, presumably from the same strong cell of weather that had affected Gunrunner and Showtime.
Video by Ronnie Simpson
This writer was fortunate enough to score a ride back on the 100-ft super-maxi Infotrack, which had ironically suffered a keel failure of its own, back in the day when it was known as Rambler 100 and competing in the Fastnet Race. With a crew of 18 and a good weather window that included a 10- to 20-knot beat before a transition zone and a 10- to 20-knot run, we had no dramas at all, aside from the bush fires that are presently impacting much of the east coast of Australia. As can be seen in photo and video, the smoke in the Bass Strait was quite thick, impacting our visibility and creating many sore throats among the crew.