Hobart for the Holidays--Getting Ready

December 6 My connection to this race and the Fine Line USA team dates back to November 2003. Mike Bird, one of the other crew members, told me that he and Rich were talking about putting a team together for the 2004 Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. Mike asked me if I would be interested. I met Mike several years ago at Key West Race Week. We had both connected to a boat that needed crew. After the regatta that year Mike invited me to race with him in Chicago, I was living in Cleveland at the time. Over the years Mike and I have kept in touch, occasionally racing together. Even after I moved to Houston, the relationship endured. I told Mike that I might be interested. However, I noted that this race was the one race that I had been forbidden to do by my wife, Michelle. Michelle heard about the race after the disaster of 1998. She has read the books, and given them to me to read as well. I had been reminded on a regular basis since then that I should not consider doing the Sydney-Hobart Race. I brought the subject up to Michelle as casually as possible. Not surprisingly, she promptly reminded me of her feelings. But I could sense that she might not be as firm on her stance as she wanted me to believe. Michelle realized, or at least hoped, that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. Since nothing was firm about the plan at this point, nothing had to be decided. Mike and I discussed the idea further at Key West 2004. Still, no firm plans seemed to be set. Michelle was beginning to hope that the whole thing was going to blow over without being realized. Then in May a phone call came from Mike and I was officially invited to join the Fine Line team for the 2004 Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. Michelle reluctantly agreed that I should go and I was on the team. For her, the only redeeming value of my participation in the race is that she gets the chance to hold a koala. Since my joining the team much communication has occurred about preparations and what we needed to do to meet team qualification requirements. At one point things were for me becoming distressingly obscure. Now living in Houston, I was often disconnected from the information flow. But eventually obscure points were clarified and doubts were addressed. Here we are now, almost ready to leave the U.S. A couple of weeks ago my parent company decided to schedule a meeting for dates after I was scheduled to leave for Sydney. The ensuing email exchange resulted in neither side being satisfied. I'm still going to Sydney on schedule. They're going to have the meeting without me. Now my bosses and my wife are all upset with me. I've been slowly spreading the word amongst sailing friends and family about my planned participation. An annual Christmas tree decorating party hosted by a prominent local sailor (Charlie Ogletree) was last Friday night, December 3. The race was a hot topic of conversation amongst the many sailors at there. Everyone was asking me if I was excited. My answer was "not yet." Typically I don't get too excited far in advance of the big events. However, what I didn't say was that I was already looking at the Bass Strait wind and waves forecasts and the East Australian Current (EAC) estimate maps once or twice each day. One person at the party who has done the race before (Farley Fontenot) said the important thing to keep in mind is that the real goal is to finish. According to him, nothing beats the feeling of crossing the finish line in Hobart. This theme seems to be common in the statements I have heard or read. My boat gear is piled in the closet floor waiting to be packed later this week. I had to buy new boots and foul weather gear. Typically I sail in sandals. And there is not much need for heavy foul weather gear in Houston. Fact is that almost everything necessary to avoid cold in my boat gear pile is new. I remember looking at pictures of last years race on the Internet. The race that year was billed as a slow race with relatively mild conditions. Despite the billing, I noticed reefed mains, blade jibs, and heavily dressed crew. Isn't December 26 summer in Australia? Just how cold is the water? I wondered. A quick check verified that it is a lot colder than the Gulf of Mexico in June. I have just started thinking about shore clothes. What's the minimum amount of shore clothes I can get by with? Do I carry a coat and tie? (Michelle is thinking "yes"). How many days in a row will Michelle allow me to wear the same pair of jeans? (I think I can get by with one pair and do laundry once or twice. Michelle prefers just not to know what I am thinking.) Is one pair of brown boat shoes and a pair of tennis shoes enough for any occasion that I'm likely to see? (The answer has to be "yes." Shoes take up too much room.) Should I carry separate sailing clothes for the practice days so that I can pack the boat gear bag only once? (I decided I need at least one pair of shorts and a tee shirt extra to avoid last minute laundry.) I've traveled a lot for work the last few years. I consider knowing how to pack light, a survival skill. December 8 I received an email from Tom Edman, one of the other crewmembers, this morning. He's already in Sydney. Tom has been looking at the big-name boats. So far he has seen Konica, Skandia, and Nokia and met some of their crew. The weather report for the Bass Straight is not very inviting today. A gale warning is in effect, with 3- to 4-meter seas on a 2- to 3-meter swell. Winds are forecasted at 20 to 30 knots with sustained periods of 35 knots or more. At least if we were out there now we would be sailing off the wind. The current map hasn't been updated since Monday, perhaps because of cloudiness along the southeast coast and/or high winds and waves. The last current map, which is based on sea surface temperatures, shows two counterclockwise (anti-clockwise in Australian) eddies between Sydney and Eden, a third in the Eastern Bass Strait, and a fourth offshore of Hobart. The main branch of the EAC appears too far offshore to be useful in the current situation. But, a weaker branch runs closer to shore along the continental shelf. Also in this morning's email is the December 6 edition of the CYCA newsletter. Another sailor friend in Houston (Jeff Lam) is a member of CYCA and has been sending me the newsletters that contain bits about the upcoming race. Tonight the boat gear bag gets packed. December 9 As planned, the boat gear bag got packed last night. Right now it contains no shore clothes for after our arrival in Hobart. Michelle will be bringing stuff down, but I hope we would be there before her. Not much room left in the bag due to the heavy foul weather gear. I refuse to take more than what I can get into one bag. Most of the clothes are packed into zip-lock bags with the air pressed out of them. This should keep stuff dry until used. But, mainly the zip-locks are being used to reduce volume. It works pretty well. I have an email this morning from Teki Dalton in Australia. Teki is a friend of Jeff Lam. He has some experience sailing on Kioni this year. He made some general observations about the boat and offered to meet and talk once I arrived in Sydney. Hopefully the meeting can be arranged. I forwarded his brief comments to Rich, Mike, and Tom. The EAC current estimate maps are back on line. The eddies are typically persistent for a long time. However, they can change relatively quickly. Nothing much has changed yet. I have started to think about exactly how we will find the current and stay in it. I don't know if we have water temperature measurements available on the boat already or not. The Australian on the team, Phil Scanlon, is designated as our navigator. We need to discuss this issue when we get to Sydney. For a few days now I have been thinking I need to start a discussion topics list. Today it got started. The finding and keeping the EAC issue goes on the list. I also started a safety orientation checklist to discuss with Rich, Tom, and Mike. The Bass Strait forecast today does not look as foreboding as yesterday's. There are still strong winds and rough seas, but more easily manageable and in the range of what I have experienced before now. Michelle got information from Liz Ogletree regarding places to go in Sydney yesterday. I showed her the website for the Koala Park Sanctuary. She is getting a little excited about going. I asked her last night if she wanted to see the video about the race that Rich sent me. She asked me if I still wanted to do the race, implying that her watching the video might not be helpful in that regard. Point taken. She's probably right. Maybe after the race. Mrs. Goddard of HYC offered Michelle and I the use of her apartment in Sydney while we are there, very helpful. We picked up the keys in the evening. Mr. Goddard showed us pictures of the start of the 2002 race. They were on the committee boat with the starting cannon that year. The weather for the start that year was rather dreary, but the pictures were exciting none the less. The call to the Goddard's Houston home became quite a party. Jeff Lam and his wife and another couple were all invited for what became a serious of stories and explanations of which bars and restaurants to hit. Even Michelle is starting to get excited. For more journal entries from the Fine Line crew as they prepare to race to Hobart, click here.