By Peter Grayson
26 DECEMBER 2021
Due to good preparation Crux was ready to go on Boxing Day. The original plan was to leave the Marina at about 11:30. We decided there was no need to be at the start line too early. As other boats slowly made their way out of the Marina, Carlos was busy downstairs doing some last-minute navigation on the latest wind data and I went about setting up the sheets and getting the boat ready for sail.
Before we knew it, it was 11:45. We quickly cast off and made our way out to the start line, hoisted our storm sails and checked off with the start boat. Carlos finished checking the latest winds and before we knew it, it was 12:45.
We hoisted the mainsail, but as it went up, we discovered the blanking plug on the mast hadn’t been put in after the storm sails were up, and on hoisting, one of the slugs on the main had come out. Consequently, we had to drop the main, add the blanking plate and rehoist, ease but it chews a few minutes without realising. Carlos suggested getting the spinnaker up on deck. I went about setting the spinnaker up and Carlos said, “you might as well connect all the sheets up to the spinnaker”. I asked, “how long till the start?” to which he replied 2 minutes. I looked at him and said, “two minutes to our warning signal?” and he said, “no two minutes to the start!”. Time sure goes quickly.
We hit the start line with our spinnaker going up and before we knew it, we had started the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. As we made our way towards the Heads, we were quite shy with the spinnaker and only just holding it. I suggested to Carlos that we get rid of the spinnaker as I did not believe that we would be able to carry it and being two handed, if we decided to keep pushing on and then we needed to drop it, we would not have enough resources and time to be able to drop it without actually losing a lot of ground.
This decision turned out to be a wise choice as others started losing their spinnakers. We rounded our Mark and then made our way out to sea to our next mark. As we made our way out, it was clear that heading out to sea before tacking was the preferred tactic. At this point, Carlos decided to go down for a nap and I don’t blame him. Getting the boat to the start line is no easy task.
As I continued out to sea, I saw a helicopter approaching. I took the jacket I had half on, off and put it in the cockpit and basically focused on looking forward as most photographers prefer action shots and not waving at the camera. The helicopter did a complete loop around the boat quite close and quite low and the boat got a good whack of downdraft from the helicopter, but the result was a very good shot.
We got out to the point that most the boats were tacking. I could see going a little bit further was preferable before tacking. We tacked and started making our way down the coast. We continued doing shifts as we made our way down the coast, averaging about 3 hours on 3 hours off. I ended one of my shifts and went downstairs. I was only downstairs around two or three minutes, and suddenly I heard the number 3 flogging and the boat leaning over. I quickly popped my head upstairs to see what was going on. Carlos yelled back that we had over 30 as he was about to tack. We completed the tack and then quickly discussed what we’re going to do. Did we think the squall was short lived or going to hang around? I responded that we needed to get the three down immediately as it was flogging, and it was not going to survive. We discovered later when we had to flake the number three that it had a small tear in it, so we couldn’t actually use it anymore for the race.
About 20-30 minutes after this, we came across a full crewed boat crossing in front of us and we’re a little bit puzzled because it had no main and look like they had either their #4 or storm Jib up only and we thought that was a little bit of overkill. It wasn’t until the next few skeds that we discovered that there was a small, isolated squall and a lot of boats got hammered with a lot worse than we did.
During the night around about 3:00am, Carlos was yelling down to me for help, this was tiny little bit odd, because Carlos would normally just come down and wake me. He then continued to calmly tell me we had lost Mary, the auto pilot. I came up on deck and Carlos repeated that Mary was dead. There was a job to do and he couldn’t leave the helm anymore to do the job. So, he needed me to do it.
I did the job and then we discussed what we’re going to do with Mary. We knew that we needed an autopilot to be able to radio in Eden and continue racing. The conditions were still 20 knots from the South. The boat was bouncing around and both of us were suffering a little bit from seasickness. Neither of us wanted to attempt to even work or repair the autopilot, doing so would just lose parts.
On Christmas Eve, I had called Carlos asking him about a backup autopilot and I actually ended up going to Khaleesi and stealing hers and all the electronics and converters so that in the rare case that the primary autopilot died, we had a backup. Khaleesi’s autopilot was a self-contained system, but it had not been tested on Crux. I had actually updated the software and hadn’t even tested it at this point.
Carlos suggested that as long as we could physically mount the autopilot, then we could wait until the conditions improved to actually wire it in. With a small modification, this was doable and with that I went back to bed.
27 DECEMBER 2021
The wind was consistently from the South between 20 and 30 knots and we just continued to sail and make our way down the coast.
28 DECEMBER 2021
At some point during the 28th, conditions started to improve, the rain had gone away. There was a bit of sunlight, and both me and Carlos were starting to feel a little bit better. Carlos decided that he was going to start attempting to wire in the new autopilot, so while I was sailing, I was yelling the colours of the wires to him, how to wire it up and where we needed to mount the head unit. After about 20 minutes, Carlos came upstairs, opened up the rear locker and pulled out two wires. We cut the plug of the backup actuator; hard wired it; flicked the switch; pressed auto and the system came alive and was steering Crux. It was working and we were still in the race!
29 DECEMBER 2021
The 29th was another glorious day. We had some good wind and had some spinnakers up. Ultimately it was just a really pleasant day. As me and Carlos were upstairs talking, Carlos pointed as a flipper looking item past the boat. I looked at and instantly was like “this is a sun fish!”. Carlos was not convinced, but after seeing a few more in the following days, agreed that it was actually a sun fish.
Carlos decided that, given the 29th was such a good day, that he would make the night difficult and tiring. My shift ended and I went downstairs. Normally I sleep in all my gear, wet weather gear and PFD. This way when someone yells for help, you can jump up and be on deck in 5 seconds. The conditions were calm, the boat was warm inside, the bunks where dry so I thought I’d take the opportunity to sleep without all my gear so not to run hot, but with my PFD still on. I checked with Carlos to see if he was ok with me not having all my wet weather gear on and that if he needed me, to give me early warning so that I could completely get dressed. I could still get up on deck quickly if needed, but my gear would get wet if I did.
I struggled to get to sleep a little bit this night. I think not being 100% in my wet weather gear and 100% ready to go was itching at me. I could feel the boat was getting more and more powered up as time went by, and after about an hour of not sleeping I got up and got completely dressed as I could tell the wind had increased. I tried to get some sleep, but unfortunately although I was now ready, the boat was trucking along and powered up and even from my bunk I could feel the boat was on edge. After 20 or 30 minutes the spinnaker collapsed and reset. “That’s 1” I thought, then not long after that it did it again, “that’s 2”. I had learnt from a previous offshore skipper about the “3 kite rule”. When the kite collapses or is very unhappy 3 times, it’s time to get it down before you tear it or break something. I did not get to 3. At 2 I got up and went to check what was happening and see if we could run a little deeper. Carlos responded that we were already running deeper than we should have been and bearing off more would be starting to really track away from our run line.
I had a quick look at the direction we were going and our run line and suggested that we needed to drop our spinnaker and swap to something that would allow us to run parallel to our run line. We decided that it was going to be quicker to just drop the spinnaker, go bare head and hoist a jib top afterwards so that we were going in the right direction with the main. We discussed how we were going to drop the spinnaker, because we were running really shy and the spinnaker had a lot of power in it. We prepped the spinnaker, moved the pole forward and got ready to do the letterbox drop. Carlos and I where about to look at each other to check that we were both ready to do the drop, when suddenly the brace let go and jumped out of the winch. Decision made for us, dropping now! It was a very quick drop down the hatch and the jib top was up before we knew it.
I tried to get some more sleep, but it wasn’t long before Carlos woke me again to change to another sail as the wind angle meant we needed the #4 up now. Carlos gave me as much sleep as he could, before needing to swap, since I hadn’t got much in my off shift, what with the sail changes. Between sail changes you need to spend 20 minutes cooling off again and letting the excitement die, before trying to go down and sleep.
30 DECEMBER 2021
Seeing land is always a bit of a trick, you see it and think not long now. Tasmania isn’t that small and as the wind dies it gets bigger.
I came up on deck around 9am on the 30th for my next shift. The wind was soft, and Carlos told me that the wind, although it might pick up for a little while, was likely to die. There was a possibility that we were going straight into a hole towards the bottom of Tasmania that we couldn’t really avoid.
For the rest of the day there wasn’t much to report, except how stunning the view and conditions were. Eventually the wind started to die, and we parked down towards the bottom of Tasmania; as did everyone else in Storm Bay.
31 DECEMBER 2021 – 10 HOURS IN A HOLE
I woke around midnight to the sound of the sails slamming back and forth and came up on deck to start my shift. Carlos told me that the wind had completely died in the last half an hour. He had centred the main and basically set the boat pointing in the right direction as there was nothing much more that could be done. Carlos told me the hole was around for at least another 10 hours. Although this was bad news, it made one decision easy… that Genoa needed to come down! In 10 hours, it would have many holes in it from slamming into the spreaders.
Carlos had let me sleep longer on my off shift than normal; I expect he was trying to make the most of the wind before it completely died. Carlos went down to sleep and I could tell he was tired. It was now my shift and I was quite fresh, so I looked at the boat situation, what speed were doing over ground and started to think about ways of getting the boat to move faster and/or make things more pleasant.
First item was Genoa down as discussed, I then looked at the birdy at the top of the rig and the backstay flags for puffs of wind and where they were coming from. I also took my beanie off so that I could feel the puffs on my face and ears. The wind was at a reach, so I got some spare sheets, tied them to the end of the boom and took the other end to a forward fitting or bow bollard. Basically, I pinned the main at the correct angle to the puffs, rather than centred.
The autopilot was too noisy, after all, it was dead silent apart from the main slapping back and forth. It was also too active for 0.8knot boat speed. I could use the autopilot to hold the helm steady, but its adjustments were also too large. So, I set up a rope wrapped around the end of the tiller tied to either side, which held the tiller, but still allowed adjustment of the helm as needed to any angle and silently.
The main halyard where it enters the mast was squeaking and was soon quietened by throwing some water on it. I couldn’t go any faster, but I could make it more pleasant for all on board; moving around the boat slowly, so as not to make noise and not to rock her.
Carlos was below snoring! I have never heard him snore; he was tired and slept through the rig shaking from the main slapping back and forth in the sea chop.
If you have every raced with no wind for any length of time, it can be very maddening. Plenty of sailors lose their cool and I have heard stories of crew crying after days of no wind. By morning I was starting to get annoyed. During the night, every 20 minutes or so a puff of 5 knots would appear, it wouldn’t last long, so I would hoist the Genoa from the pit and catch what I could for 2-3 minutes. It would die and I would open the clutch, drop the Genoa, set it up in the pre-feeder and wait for next puff and do it all again.
The hole though, was an opportunity to enjoy where I was. To the right over the land the glow in the distance of Hobart. To my left there were two fishing boats. One was lit up as you would expect in the distance on the horizon. The other, however, was a small city. The amount of light it was putting out was phenomenal; the entire sky over that way was lit up more than Hobart.
Despite the glow, you could still see millions of stars you can’t see on land with ease. It is spectacular to sit and watch. It really is breath taking. Suddenly I heard something nearby. “What the hell was that noise?” It got a bit closer and the noise became clearer and it turned out to be dolphins taking breaths, swimming towards Crux.
I greeted them! Tasmania always has heaps of dolphins in large pods that greet you when you get to Tasmania and I look forward to this every time. I moved to the bow looking over them, talking to them, trying to keep their interest. I couldn’t actually see them because of how dark it was, but the water was slightly phosphorescent. I could see these glowing streams running around the boat as the dolphins played and raced around the boat. Other dolphins were moving more slowly around the bow. Their entire body slightly glowing and their noses, tails and fins brightly glowing.
There might have been no wind but spending 20 minutes on the bow of the boat talking to the dolphins as I watched their glowing shadows come and go and listening to them taking breaths, was a pretty unique experience. More dolphins came and went but eventually it was back to slam, slam, of the main while watching the stars and waiting for a puff.
As morning dawned there was just enough light for me to see puffs coming and clouds forming over the shore. The wind was coming from the West now and it looked like there was wind near land. I didn’t really want to go towards land, as there was likely to be no wind in a few hours, but there was nothing to my east. Eventually a puff came along and I turned the boat towards land. After a few puffs a constant 5 knots settled in. It felt like light speed; fingers crossed it would hang in.
Eventually Carlos appeared and we had breakfast and chatted. Any suggestions of sleep were dismissed – I told Carlos “I’m not sleeping till I get Crux around Tasman Island!”.
We eventually made Tasman Island; the land scape is beautiful – selfie time! I could see bigger boats catching us further out to sea. The sea looked like there was more wind further out, which wasn’t unexpected, but it isn’t easy to creep out to it with the little wind we had.
There was a little more wind as we came around Tasman Island, but we were now going straight into a 1-1.5m swell with the wind behind us at about 6-7 knots. It was torture to say the least. On every single wave the spinnaker collapsed and reset, and there wasn’t much we can do as there wasn’t enough wind to keep it filled; and to hot up would take us South!
Eventually, as we entered Storm Bay the wind built, and we made good time across the bay. I headed down to get a quick nap before entering the Derwent River.
I was on helm entering the Derwent River as the wind softened, but was just hanging in. As we continued up the river, the wind suddenly died, and the spinnaker collapsed. The spinnaker then started blowing over the rig. A quick look around showed a wind line to my starboard and in front of me. It changed direction from behind to in front of me. I quickly moved the pole and dragged the kite off the rig, and it started to fill as I bore away. The wind continued to build, and I worried that it would continue building and turning. I asked Carlos to get the Genoa up. We needed to get the spinnaker down.
Carlos suggested that we try to keep flying the spinnaker. I was a little concerned as we were powered up on the limit and I couldn’t follow our run line – we might pass the sandbar, but there wasn’t much in it. As we continued up the river, the wind thankfully shifted aft a bit and we then had some wiggle room.
The wind held in and we crossed the finished with a few boats following us. We quickly dropped sails and did the obligatory pass down the wharf where the crowds cheered and congratulated us. As we entered the marina, Danielle and Rachel (18 month old daughter) were waiting at the entrance, I could see that Rachel was a little confused and not really responding to me much, but as we continued on towards our marina spot I could hear Rachel crying and trying to get to me. I then spent the rest of my time in Hobart with Rachel keeping a close eye on me and, for the first time, actively holding my hand everywhere we went.
The delivery back was braved by Carlos Aydos, Jack Barnes, Zeljko Berkovic and Ramon Berkovic. Young Ramon sails lasers and O’pen Skiffs at MYC. He was obviously super excited with the delivery and demonstrated his ability to sleep anywhere! All are/where MYC members and regular Khaleesi crew.