FROM 1-24. Closing on the Barn Door

Oct 13, 2005 - 1200hrs UTC

1200hrs 13 Oct 2005 UTC 38’06”S 006’00”W Ref 438

DB:117, 6954 gps 123, 54/56

About a week to the barn door.

Reading Ed’s article has rattled the marbles a bit. I’ve been trying to pin down what it was that started all this and I think it may have been as far back as the day my parents gave me Joshua Slocum’s book to read. I must have been about 10, but that book as it were lit the candle and set a standard for what is possible and that standard underpins this venture as well. When I first had the idea, long before I met Pete and perhaps as far back as the 1977 Hobart, it was a fantasy but with definite attitude. I can remember it sitting out there as a sort of whimsical dare that I used to play with and I think some decisions since then have been influenced by the harder edge of that fantasy.

The Sydney -Rio start in Jacqui was one of these and there’s always been that unfinished 1961 Fastnet out there stage left. When it became possible for me to buy a boat this size, I had a tiny budget. I was looking for a seaworthy go-anywhere boat at the right price, but with the 50th Sydney-Hobart race in the front of my mind rather that a jaunt across the ocean to play at Fastnets. But always, down there lurking in the subconscious was old Joshua, putting tintacks in front of my bare feet to send me generally in this direction.

For instance, I had decided that an S&S 34 was the way to go, but the S&S tag meant that they were all – I thought – significantly overpriced for what was on offer. Berrimilla eventually cost me a bit over half the lower end S&S’s and has proved to be at least their equal. When this project finally surfaced as an idea with some substance, the boat was there and was partly prepared. Thanks Joshua.

I did one longish two handed trip in 1994, from Eden to Sydney with Flop and we may have talked about it then, but it was when Pete and I two handed Berrimilla back from Hobart in January 2000 that the idea really eased into the frame. Even then, it needed a lot of other lucky breaks, like a modest redundancy cheque and tolerant families, but here we are. And – most astonishingly of all, there you all are.

Ed says I’m an unabashed traditionalist. Sounds a bit wooden headed to me. I don’t think so, unless that means that I try not to repeat past mistakes – mine or other peoples’. Berrimilla may be a traditional boat but she’s full of some very non traditional gear – this laptop, for instance. And while I’m now a bit too decrepit to do it myself, I applaud those who push the envelope with courage and stamina and persistence – Ellen MacArthur and Pete Goss and Kay Cottee, the many French men and women and all the others. But these people take calculated risks in sponsored boats that are designed for the purpose – mostly anyway. As an aside, who remembers the photo of one of the single handers’ boats floating upside down somewhere south of here with its keel still on and him sitting on the upturned hull waiting for rescue? Well, at least the keel stayed on, which I suppose earns some brownie points, but that lesson has been learned the hard way because people do push the edge. At the same time it is possible to have a great deal of respect for the early pioneers like Columbus and the later Corinthians like Slocum, who do this sort of thing without engines, radios, watermakers or any of the modern goodies, and often do it without seeking the coverage that we have been lucky enough to have been given. A Frenchman did it quite recently, I think, and wrote a book about it, but no-one knew he was out here and there’s a single hander from Slovenia toiling along behind us as I write, doing it very hard indeed.

On the other hand, I would think very carefully and take a lot of care picking my crew before I would set off for Hobart in a boat that was engineered for going round the buoys and short inshore races followed by an evening in the bar. Not the same exercise at all. Pounding to windward in 45 knots across Bass Strait in one of those is not my idea of common sense – the boat ought to be able to protect the crew rather than the other way around, so it needs a special crew. Furthermore, it can put other people at risk, in rescue helicopters and lifeboats, so I would have to be prepared to go for the nearest bolt hole before or at least as soon as the conditions deteriorated. Today it is no longer seen to be wimpish to pull out of long races and that has to be a change for the better. Anyway, that may be a Luddite viewpoint, but I don’t think it is wooden headed.

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