This was probably going to be the most different Boxing Day that I will
have in my life.  For a start, the 6.00am alarm call is most unusual – and
unwanted after getting used to having leisurely 8am – 8.30am starts.  But,
it was necessary.  We all had to be on the boat by 8.00am ready to go.  And
I had a bakery delivery to get before I got on.

It all started well – Paul helped me down the hill from our apartment for
the last time with the remaining bits and pieces of my luggage (including
Leo the ABTA Lifeline Lion that I had forgotten was still sitting on the
kitchen table!).  The bakery man was waiting at the front of the CYCA with
all the goods for lunch, dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast.  It was beginning
to get really busy – there were TV lorries and cameras, and people milling
around everywhere.  We had been warned that it may take twenty minutes to
get from the road to the pontoon due to the amount of people, but it wasn’t
so bad that early.

Paul said his goodbyes, not too sad as we will be seeing each other in a
few days time in Hobart hopefully.  The last few adjustments were being
made to the boat, and all the food I had just had delivered packed away.
Everything was made safe ready for our departure!

The clippers starting slipping lines at 10.00am, and we were fourth in line
to go. We had a pre determined route to go for our Parade of Sails.  It
went along the harbour, past the Opera House and turned just before the
Harbour Bridge.  What a setting.  The sun was out, and there was hardly a
cloud in the sky.  Beautiful.  And the twelve clipper boats in a line
looked a magical sight.  We had our official photos taken with the Opera
House in the background – can’t wait to see that!  There was a Royal
Caribbean cruise ship berthed in Circular Quay – just a tad bigger than the
one I was on.

After our parade, we had to sail past a committee boat with our storm jib
and tri sail up.  Along with 108 other boats that were also taking part in
the Sydney to Hobart Rolex Yacht Race.  Can’t believe we are actually
taking part in such a prestigious race – many sailors never get to
experience something like that, let alone a mere Travel Agent.  Paul, Fran
and Georgina also got to experience some of it, as they were on Lauren’s
dad’s boat, which was on the harbour and we sailed around several times.
Or they sailed around us.  Whichever!

Sydney Harbour was packed.  How there was no collisions I will never know.
There were larger boats than ours taking part – the infamous Wild Oats that
has won the race several times along with Comanche in the supermaxi class.
They were very sleek and fast looking boats, with a very professional
strong looking crew.  I expect to only see the back of those once we start.
Lots of boats were smaller than ours, and there were also two other
clipper boats – the previous generation 68’s that are based in Sydney for
training purposes.  One of them is being skippered by Sir Robin Knox
Johnson – would be nice to beat that one!!

The start was at 1pm – and it got busier and busier around that part of the
harbour where everyone was jostling for position to cross the start line.
Wendo and all the other skippers were wearing heart rate monitors that were
live on the race tracker – bet that went up off the scale a few times.
As 1pm drew closer we had all the sails up that we needed for the start,
but without the power in them as we had to keep tacking across the harbour
to miss other boats.  Sir Robin’s boat did give way to us in a 50/50
situation just before the start – although he wasn’t at the helm.  Not sure
if it would have if it had been his choice!

The start gun went, and we were over the line very quickly.  One of the large supermaxis, Maserati, had a man overboard clearing a snagged line so we had to avoid him.
We had several tacks to get across the harbour and out of the heads, and we
did really well.  We were the first clipper boat out of the heads – what an
achievement!  Just past the final buoy before setting off for Tasmania we
got our spinnaker up and set off.  Most of the others did too – it was
lovely to look back at LMax for a change.  It was lovely to look back on
all of the clipper boats.

We had a fabulous run until about 10pm that night.  We had the spinnaker up
the whole time, with no wraps or calamaties, and was getting up to about 18
knots of boat speed.  What a superb start.  And we were still in the lead.
If only we can keep this up until Hobart!

We had been warned that the weather was going to change, and we would have what is known locally as a “Southerly Buster”.  The wind will change from the northerly direction that was pushing us along nicely, to be on the nose.  Again!  When I finished my shift at 10pm, the spinnaker was flying and everything was hunky dory.  By the time I had taken off my foulies, the spinnaker was coming down and three reefs were being put in.  In that short space of time, the wind had completely changed direction and had turned into a nightmare.  It was far, far worse than forecast.  We had 24 hours of horrendous conditions.  The wind was gusting up to 70 knots per hour, and the sea state was getting mountainous.  Oh what joy!

Instead of going to sleep at 10pm I ended up woolling the spinnaker. Even
when I went to bed after that I got hardly any sleep as I hadn’t set my bed
up properly and kept rolling out into my lee cloth.  It was so bouncy I
took the option of staying where I was and hanging on to the piece of rope
that had been very kindly put up in my bunk space to help me in and out!
Up for the 2am shift then, with no real sleep since I got up at 6am the
previous morning.

And it was a very lively shift in more ways than one.  Once on deck, the
short tethers were on so that the waves did not knock us too far when they
broke over the deck.  A couple did knock the whole lot of us – I jammed my
fingers in something, probably jammers, but they were only bruised.  Sandra
knocked her arm, and it turned out she had gashed it on a sharp bit of a
snatch block (that shouldn’t have been there in the first place!).  Emily
came downstairs to do the log, and was ejected from the nav station by a
wave.  I am sure there is an ejector button somewhere, as she is not the
first, and probably won’t be the last.  Unfortunately, she was stopped by a
wall and her forehead.  Consequently, she had a gash and a bump the size of
an egg as a momento of the occasion.  Pops worked his magic, and soon had
her stitched up and bandaged.  She is now known as FrankenFripp.

That 24 hours was bad for many of the boats, not only the clippers,
several retired with damage, including the favourite Wild Oats XI.  Not sure
how the other clippers have fared damage wise, but we got off quite lightly
both human and boat wise.  Hopefully the only damage the others will have
is boat damage.

We have two extra members on our boat for this race only, from the press – a photographer and a reporter from News Corp.  It is for the Australian
press, although The Sun is part of the group.  Hannah is the reporter, and
Knuckles is the photographer.

Not sure how he got that name, but does look like a “Knuckles”.  He has apparently known Wendo since they were children, so all friendly there.  He is very nimble around the boat with three cameras and a go pro – glad I left my camera at home as I just can’t see me ever being that good!

We got through the horrible weather, and we are still in the lead.  Wow!
What a lovely feeling.  It doesn’t happen often, and certainly hasn’t
happened so far into a race before.  This is Wendo’s ninth Sydney Hobart
race, so she is very experienced on the start line and getting out of the
harbour.  I am sure that played an enormous part in our being at the head
of the fleet.

We have now hit a light patch – very pleasant sailing but not going quite as fast.  As I was helming this morning a baby whale jumped out of the water about ten feet away from the boat.  It took us so by surprise hardly anyone saw it, only the splash that it left.  Michael saw it first, so it was known as the tramadol whale.  Only he hasn’t had any since leaving Sydney (his bad back turned out to be a hernia, so is having to miss a leg to get the operation) and I saw it also.  Let’s hope it is a good omen to keep us in the lead!

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