Sydney-Hobart: Captain’s notes

Ocean Gem upon arrival to Constitution Dock in Hobart. Skipper David Hows at the helm. Photo: Lars Wilderäng

Normally, I always write a log when sailing, no matter whether it is uneventful or very many things happen. This time, when did my second Sydney to Hobart, I did not. I was either behind the helm, catching up on sleep, or mending sails - so there was no time. But I will let you have a look at the short text messages sent by the skipper during the voyage, and let it be a log in itself. Use your imagination to fill in what’s between the lines: wind, waves, hard work and emotions.

Skipper David Hows steering Ocean Gem through some tricky sea state
26/12, night: We are sailing in 20 knots and 2m seas with #3 spinnaker up. No moon tonight and doing a lot of surfing, so tricky conditions. Everyone on board is well. Butter chicken for dinner tonight

27/12, am: Wind steadily reduced overnight to 8 knots and it's been really sloppy sailing in the left over swell from yesterday. The fleet have split in two this morning with 25% heading inshore and the other heading offshore to find the new breeze. Wind is forecast to build from 15-30 knots again this afternoon and then stay strong all night. We made big gains in strong winds yesterday so how to again today. Lots of sail changes overnight so lots of tired bodies this morning

Tired bodies on the rail
27/12, pm: Slow hot day out here. The breeze is slowly building but it's been light winds since early this morning. Everyone has caught up on sleep today and it should be a windy night of wild downwind sailing tonight

27/12, night: We have had a good day of downwind sailing and breeze is now 20 knots. We are pushing hard tonight with the spinnaker up and hitting great speeds. Pulled pork and mash potato for dinner. We have just made our Radio call to declare boat and crew are well and all are prepared for Bass Strait crossing tonight. Just entering the 160nm strait now and should see Top of Tasmania about 10am tomorrow. It will take a day to sail down Tasmanian Coast and up Derwent River so should be finished late Monday morning. All crew are well and the weather is so warm that is tee shirts only required in Bass Strait tonight

28/12, early night: Almost half way across Bass Strait at midnight and flying along doing 12-15 knots over ground with spinnaker up in 20-25 knots and nice current pushing us South. Hard to steer in the dark with no moon and random waves knocking us off course regularly. Exhilarating sailing

Ready for a night watch. Coming closer to Antarctica so a bit chilly now.
28/12, am: Good morning, tough and windy night with up to 30 knots in Bass Strait. Fast wet sailing and crew are all well.

28/12, night: Tough morning with wind increasing to 35 knots for a period of time before slowly decreasing throughout day. Over night we tore 2 of our 3 Spinnakers within an hour and spent the rest of the night with jib and 2 reefs in main. While we lost some boat speed without a kite up we were still hitting 11-13 knots consistently surfing the 2-4 metre waves. Lena has spent 6 hours today repairing tears totalling more than 20m in length in one of the spinnakers so hopefully we get a chance to fly it again tomorrow. Smoke was disgusting here this morning with visibility down to 1 mile and sore throats for some of the crew. The next 24 hours will be tricky with light and changeable winds and we hope to finish before midday Monday

Crew set for another night watch
29/12, pm: We had a good night. Reaching with a Genoa in 15 knots that's steadily reduced overnight to 10 knots this morning. Now we are back to the number 1 spinnaker again. Less than 1 day to the finish but will be tricky with light winds that are forecast to die out a couple of times. All crew are well but getting broken sleep with the regular sail changes. We had our first damage free day yesterday.

29/12, night: We are 14nm from Tasman Light and back in patchy phone coverage after 3 days. Then it's 40nm across Storm Bay and up the Derwent River to the finish in Hobart sole time tomorrow morning. With a dying breeze overnight is going to be a long last leg of the race for us.

30/12, pm – after finish: It was fantastic to finish the Sydney Hobart Race yesterday and enjoy all the post race action in Hobart. Despite the challenge of losing the use of 3 of our 4 downwind sails in the first 36 hours, we had a great race with a fantastic crew and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately the windless night in the final 12 hours before we finished cost us a top 3 finish - but that's yacht racing. Thanks to everyone who followed our race and sent us words of encouragement. It makes a big difference especially when the going gets tough.

After the finish line. Congratulations and hugs all around! Photo: Lars Wilderäng
Another update from the skipper, after the race, is the following:

“Hats off to Rod West and the Another Painkiller crew. We had a bet for a bottle of rum for the first boat to Hobart on IRC. We won by the skinniest of margins: 2 minutes 8 seconds after 95 hours of racing. Rod gracefully presented a fine bottle of Captain Morgans spiced rum today. Great sportsmanship.”

The presenting of the rum bottle
My own comment: This is the very boat that had put beating us in this race as the main objective for Sydney-Hobart 2019, in their official fact/bio description for the Royal Sydney Hobart Yacht Race list of yachts. Feels good to win this one!