Hobart for the Holidays--Fine Line USA Heads South

One of the reasons that you don't see too many American entries in the Sydney-Hobart Race is that it's held on Dec. 26. It's tough to explain to family and friends that, instead of enjoying the holidays with them, you'll be strapping yourself into an airplane seat for 14 hours in order to spend three or more days sailing 628 miles across one of the world's nastier bodies of water. But every year, which is how often they run the Sydney Hobart, there is at least one hardy crew of American sailors who make the considerable effort required to do so. This year, it's Rich Montplaisir, who recently upgraded from a Tripp 40 named Fine Line to an ILC 46 of the same name, which sails out of Chicago's Columbia YC, and his crew, who are making the trip to the Southern Hemisphere. While we're all recovering from the excesses of Friday, Dec. 25, the Fine Line team will be starting the Sydney-Hobart aboard a chartered Beneteau First 47.7. We've asked Rich and members of his crew to share some of their thoughts with us as they prepare and take part in this endeavor. First, a breakdown of what's happening from Rich's friend, Laurie Hybil, who will be traveling with the Fine Line crew to Australia and working as the team's PR person. "At the time this article is written, the 2004 Rolex Series Sydney Hobart Race is exactly 30 days away. The thought is both exhilarating and disquieting as a year of preparation will culminate on Boxing Day. There are 120 boats participating in this year's 60th anniversary of the race, ranging from a Mumm 36 to 98 foot maxis. Fine Line USA is the only US team. "Much has been accomplished over the past year in preparation for this Sydney Hobart Race. After two months of negotiation, a Beneatau 47.7 was chartered. A crew was assembled over an eight-month period. The logistics of coordinating travel plans for thirteen U.S. crewmembers, including air travel and accommodations both Sydney and in Hobart, Tasmania have been finalized. The rules of the race have been deciphered and complied with. The gear necessary for this grueling race has been purchased. The radio certifications and medical certifications have been obtained. Ten of the crewmembers are registered for the Safety at Sea seminar. Everything that can be accomplished from Chicago has now been completed. "The turnover of the 47.7 will be on December 15, at which time the crew will start training.No member of the crew regularly sails on a 47.7, so the crew will need to learn the boat quickly in preparation for the race, they'll have ten days. "The preparations for the race will be a challenge for the Fine Line crewmembers. The charter of the 47.7 includes all items that are mandatory pursuant to the rules of race. However, there are many additional items that the team has elected to bring, many of which will need to be procured in Sydney. All 120 boats will be making last-minute preparations, and there is certain to be competition for supplies and assistance in readying the boat for the race. In addition, there is a race series in Sydney immediately prior to the race, and another immediately after. The crew has been informed that if there's any damage to the boat or the sails prior to the race, there won't be professionals available to make repairs. "The intense Sea Safety and Survival Course will demand the time and attention a majority of the Fine Line USA team. This course covers all the important issues that arise as a result of offshore sailing, including Search and Rescue, Understanding Weather, First Aid, Safety Equipment, Marine Emergencies, Abandonment At Sea, Heavy Weather Sailing, Pyrotechnics, Fighting Fire At Sea and Life Raft Procedures. The Sea Safety and Survival Course is finished with practical wet drills and a flare demonstration, with simulated storm situations and drills in and out of a life raft. The course is two classroom nights and an all-day session, a total of 12 hours of theory and 4 hours of hands-on practice. "The unknown of the start will be the first test of Fine Line crew. In any race, the start is an exciting, challenging aspect. Their Beneteau 47.7 will be one of 120 boats at the start trying to hit the line as the cannon sounds. In addition, numerous spectator and photo boats will be surrounding the race participants as they sail their way to the start. It's not unusual to see a collision at the start of a Sydney Hobart race. "Bass Strait has a dangerous personality, alternating between dead calm and spectacular storms. The water is relatively shallow, and wave and wind patterns converging can result in huge seas. Approaching Tasman Island, the coastline comprises massive cliffs, which are sometimes shrouded in fog. The winds are often fickle and can vary in strength and direction within a few miles. Sailing becomes very tactical. After the turn at Tasman Island, there are still 40 miles of sailing to go. For the spouses and fiances of the crew members who will be waiting in Tasmania for the arrival of their loved ones, it will be three to four days of anxiously waiting for the first sighting of the Fine Line team. "Those interested can follow the progress of Fine Line USA during the race by logging onto www.cyca.com.au, selecting "Rolex Sydney Hobart Race", and clicking on Yacht Tracker. Yacht Tracker allows viewers to see the heading, speed and distance of the yacht entrants, as well as the weather conditions."