Hobart for the Holidays--The Man With the Plan

I first heard of the Sydney to Hobart Race when a crewmember gave me a copy of "The Proving Ground" three years ago. I read it with great interest, and thought it was a fascinating account of what can occur in heavy weather sailing. After reading the book, I visited the website regarding the race. The website sparked my interest in actually doing the race, and after reading the long history of the race, the yachts competing in the race and all the articles and information regarding the race, it was clear that the race could not be defined by the 1998 race, but had a history and prestige that transcended a single race. Last year, I began following the progress of the race and the boats participating in it in the fall, and by the end of the year decided that I wanted to put a crew together and participate in the 60th anniversary of the race. I located a charter company in Sydney, Getaway Sailing Adventures, and quickly developed a great relationship with the owner, Andy Lygos. He sent me information on a variety of boats available for charter, and after I realized a boat could be chartered I was determined to do the race. The first person I told was my fiance, Laurie. She was not nearly as excited with the idea as I was. I had already tried her patience by logging on to the Sydney Hobart website repeatedly during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at her parents' home in rural Indiana, thus tying up the family's only phone line, and the suggestion of actually being at the race the following year was not well received. In addition, she was very concerned with the thought of my participation in the race. Although she disagreed with my decision, Laurie agreed to support my efforts. The next person I approached was Mike Bird. He sails with me on my boat Fine Line, and together we have raced in the myriad of conditions on Lake Michigan. Mike was also following the Sydney Hobart, and we'd trade stories back and forth as we watched the 2003 race on line. We both said the same thing: "How do those crews differ from us?" So after the 2003 race I proposed to Mike that if I could get Tom Edman, another local sailor involved, we would put a crew together and go. Tom agreed immediately, and the plan was in motion. Now once we made the commitment to go, we of course were going to have to convince our girlfriends, wives and family what a great idea this was to do the race in Australia, notorious for rough sea and dangerous conditions, and incase that wasn't enough, the race starts the day after Christmas. It took a few months of negotiations to secure the charter on the boat. We will be racing a Beneteau 47.7, the choice was made by the fact the boat is two years old, big and strong. I'm confident we will be fine in heavy air, and we will get 10 days practice, hopefully some time light air before race day. The next challenge was getting a crew together. Many that I had sailed with and were interested in having on the crew were unable to do the race because of the cost involved, being away at Christmas, or an inability to convince a significant other the race was safe to do, or a combination of these factors. It took about six months to put the final crew together. Another challenge was the cost. The crew was able to dig deep and each contributed the money to make it happen. I also started a company to minimize liability. The crew has had several meetings, and practiced together during the summer. There was the issue of the rules of the race, and complying with and obtaining the necessary medical, radio and Safety at Sea certificates. Although Laurie and I organized a Safety at Sea seminar in Chicago at Columbia YC, it wasn't accepted by the race organizers. Now, 10 of the crewmembers will be taking the Sea Survival course in Australia. The CYCA requires each race participant to be a member of the Yacht Club, so membership applications had to be submitted. There seemed to be a never-ending list of rules, regulations and forms. Getaway Sailing was helpful in guiding us through the many requirements. The logistics were a challenge as well, coordinating the travel of 13 crewmembers from the United States to Australia and arranging for lodging in Sydney and Hobart. We have also had to coordinate provisioning of the boat, and determine what to bring for the race. As far as the crew is concerned, as you can imagine, all the sailors thought how great it would be to spend Christmas and New Years sailing in Australia. We had a different response from the women. As you can also imagine, significant others and family do not appreciate us being gone during Christmas, and there have been significant disagreements on this issue. Laurie has been a great support, however with a four-year-old involved it has been a bit sticky. So after changing the flights a couple times we settled on a good time to go. Laurie will be getting there December 25th to see us off, then she'll head to the outback for a few days, then meet us in Hobart on the 30th. Everyone in the sailing community has been very supportive. My sailor friends are calling and emailing me daily. When we go to Columbia yacht club, it's hard to get out of there without a toast for good luck. At the sailing meetings there's always a mention of the race. We even had a mention at this past years yachting ball. We have been written up in the Chicago Tribune, and it's gratifying to see such excitement and support. This has been more of an effort then I realized in the beginning. Laurie has coordinated all the significant aspects of the trip, and has sent over 2000 emails from the past year, and spent hours each week working on the race. I have spent hours on the phone each week coordinating as well. But now, it is all coming together. Several crewmembers are in Sydney, and several others are traveling today. The boat turnover was last night. I'm waiting to hear from the crew how the boat was received. I wish I could have been there, but work is getting in the way this month. I'll be arriving in Sydney on the 21st, which gives me a week to get up to speed. I know all the efforts and the occasional frustrations will be well worth it. For more journal updates from the Fine Line USA crew, click here.