My arrival in Sydney has now been over two months ago. – That’s unbelievable! Time is just flying by!
All beginnings are hard:
Two days before my arrival in Sydney, I already had noticed the strange pimple on my left shoulder. In Fiji, I barely escaped the hospital bed with a severe inflammation in my leg. Since the new spot on my shoulder looked very similar to the old symptoms, I got a little nervous and immediately started to treat the spot with an antibiotic cream and tablets.
Although the inflammation did not develop as quickly as it did then, when on the fourth day there was still no improvement and I could hardly use my arm because of the pain, I decided (it was Saturday) to go to hospital.
The tests taken there confirmed my fears: It was the same kind of bacteria as in Fiji – a methicillin-resistant germ; MRSA for short. Again, I was trated with antibiotics intravenously for 5 days until the pimple/abscess had matured enough to get emptied and the doctors were sure, that from now on „normal“ antibiotics would be sufficient.
Parallel to this treatment, I spent most of the day in one of the many libraries in Sydney. I had thoroughly underestimated the amount of theory for the Yachtmaster Offshore, which was due the following week. I had about five more days left to absorb the 50-hour online course and internalize all the content for the exam.
Not that everything was new, but the exact definitions and rules and of the certificate were quite something – especially as everything was taught in English, of course. The Yachtmaster Offshore is roughly comparable to the German SportSeeSchifferschein (SSS). In addition, there was a two-day Safety and Sea Survival course, a first aid course, a medical examination for seafarers and a ten-hour online course on „Professional Practices and Responsibilities“. In short: a never-ending effort!Only since a few days I am finally done with everything and just have to wait for my paperwork being processed.
My exam with perfect sailing conditions!
The expenses for all of that were motivation enough to look for a job as soon as possible. Without further ado and quite spontaneously, I applied by phone to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. The club is probably Australia’s most active club in terms of racing and is also the organizer of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race – a 650 nautical mile long offshore regatta from Sydney to Hobart in Tasmania.
This race has been on my wish list for a long time and was one of the reasons why I sailed to Australia instead of New Zealand. So, the job at the sailing club was secretly not just about the money, but also about making a few contacts in the local racing scene.
In the end, my place in the race, on the German yacht ORIONE evolved from a completely different story:
Axel and Peter Baumgartner, two brothers from Berlin, have both had the dream of sailing in the Sydney – Hobart Yacht Race since they were little children. Every year at Christmas, they watched the start on TV! Then, ten years ago, almost at the time they bought ORIONE in the Mediterranean, they have been in Sydney for the first time in person to watch the start of the race live.
The dream became a vision: Competing with the own boat! From now on, every decision made should bring ORIONE, a Grand Soleil 45 closer to the starting line. In January 2022, a one-year campaign started: Axel and Peter took turns skippering ORIONE across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean and across the Pacific Ocean! The Middle Sea Race and Rolex Giralia were two of the many milestones and tests taken on the way to Australia. Over 60 friends and family members have been on board since then, becoming part of the dream.
First time, I met ORIONE was in French Polynesia on Nuku Hiva. Elisa, Peter’s daughter, was looking after the boat and we met her the same evening Emma and I also met G the first time. We all had beer and wine together on ORIONE and talked about plans and dreams. Of course we came to talk about the regatta in Sydney.
What a coincidence! Elisa gave me the number of her father, whom I met myself a few months later in Fiji.
Whether I would sail with them or not was not clear even a month before the race. Axel and Peter had already put together a crew of family and friends. So why taking a stranger with you? In the end, it was the certificates and licenses that are required for a Category 1 race and must be carried by a minimum number of crew.
Although the Cat 1 regulations alone are very strict, the Special Regulations go even further: at the Sydney – Hobart Race 1998, a huge storm hit a big part of the fleet. 55 sailors had to be rescued; six lost their lives at sea.
For that reason, three weeks long, everyone present on ORIONE slaved away! Holes were drilled into the deck, pick-in points screwed on, railing wires changed, PLBs organized, a shortwave radio installed and one certificate after the other got certified.
Even in the last week before the race, when I had already moved on board, we were still working diligently to get the last ticks on the checklist.
We didnt’t just go out for another sail. We went out for training 😉
Then it was done! Everything worked and the crew, consisting of Axel, Peter, Paul & Elisa Baumgartner, Tobias Brackmann as Smutje, Michael Schütz as Doktor, Robert Nowatzki – founder of the MIDSUMMERSAIL Regatta – as Trimmer and me, was complete!
12/24/2022 – 2 days to go:
The media’s interest in the race is enormous! The focus was on the four Maxi Yachts (100ft long, multi-million-dollar, full carbon racers). But as one of only seven international entries, we were also something special: Various TV stations came to visit, Peter and Axel gave press releases and Germany friends sent us more and more articles published by Television and Newspapers. In the evening we actually saw ourselves in the sports section of the Australian TV news!
25.12.22 – Christmas eve in Australia and 1 day to go:
One last time we went out to the harbor for „training“. The diver had cleaned the underwater hull and promised us at least one knot more speed. When we docked again in the afternoon and I tried to lift the spinnaker bag of the ship; Zack; could not move anymore. – Lumbago! I had to go down on all fours to crawl back into the cockpit where I tried to soften my bag with easy exercises and stretching. But nothing helped and my back remained jammed. After an hour I just managed to get up again and walk a few meters.
We spent Christmas Eve with Schnax and Sabine at home and grilled on the terrace (while I was lying most of the time). The two were our Sydney Shore team and had already taken incredibly sweet care of us during the entire time.
Our Doc Michael was lenient and allowed me two small beers before we drove to the pharmacy and bought some pain pills and a back splint. The goal was to get to Tasmania at least a bit pain-free. For that reason I was send to bet even without tasting the delicious dessert at Sabine and Schnax.
Busy days on the pontoons – sailors getting the last preperations done and spectators enjoying the admosphere
26.12.22; 11am – 2h left till start
Time to rock’n roll!
We would start at start line four. But before that, we had to sail past the starting ship with our storm jib and the try sail up to prove having them on bord. Another safety measure, as apparently in the past some yachts secretly left their „unnecessary“ storm sails at the jetty to save weight.
20 minutes till start
We tacked back and forth in front of the start line, had pinned the start marks and were studying the wind anxiously. It had freshened up and Peter and Robert decided to do a last minute sail change. Instead of the G2 the slightly smaller G3 went up.
10 minutes till start
“Trim on sheets!”. One last test: How high can we reach the wind? What course can we sail?
“Ok! Ease! Bearing away!” We gained some new distance to the line.
5 minutes till start
We counted seven helicopters in the air. An incredible roar was all around us. Sailors tacked back and forth. Hundreds of spectator boats formed a corridor along the exclusion zone. Paulo kept a close eye on the other sailors in front of us, giving warning of possible collisions.
With sails furled we approached the line.
30 seconds till start
2 cannon shots started the 77th edition of the Sydney – Hobart Yacht Races! Peter was steeing. Paulo still stayed at the front of the bow, taunting other sailors. Robert is at the mast or scurrying across the deck giving instructions on how to trim the sails.
„20 seconds to tack!“
Everyone got ready to change sides to put weight on the new windward edge. Elisa and I took position at the winches, ready to tack the headsail and trim to the new course.
Axel, Tobi, Michael switched sides. I threw off the jib sheet at the right moment, Elisa pulled it tight as quickly as possible on the other side. The very last centimeters we grinded in together and sat down with the others on windward!
This journey is my dream! If you want to support me and keep the journey going, please feel free to invite me for a symbolic dinner!
Thank you so much!
While the top boats were doing hair-raising maneuvers at the mark and getting each other into trouble, we managed to sail out of the Heads without any. 100 colorful spinnakers sailed south along the coast and past Bondi Beach when two black helicopters sped toward us in low-level flight. Totally irradiated, we waved into the camera for a few moments, then focused again on the wind and our trim.
Regarding our watch schedule, we were split into 2 groups: Helmsman and Sail Trimmers. Each shift lasted three hours and was followed by a „standby shift“. Standby meant that you can doze but remain outside in the cockpit and help if needed. After these six hours on, you had six hours off. Steering and trimming shifts were shifted by one and a half hours. Like that, there was always some movement in the crew and at least four, but during watch changes even five people were on deck at the same time.
2nd day at sea
The kite stayed up all night and the morning. We had to take it down though after we failed jibing and broke the spinnaker bell: The wind already blew 25knots and the swell was already decent when we decided to do the jibe.
It took quite a long time to switch the spinnaker pole on the foredeck in the swell. A breaking wave suddenly pushed the bow so far into the wind that the pressure in the rudder became too great and I lost control of the ship. – We broached! The spinnaker went wild, flapping in the wind, in danger of getting caught in the shrouds to tear.
Only when we threw all the sheets loose and all pressure had escaped from the sails, I could finally bear away, and the others could tame the kite. They dropped it below the mainsail and let it disappear straight below deck.
Now we couldn’t go as far downwind anymore, but kept almost the same speed with the G2.
Tobi surfing down a four meter wave
3rd day at sea
During the night the wind increased more and more and regularly the windmeter showed 40 knots or more! Little by little we reefed the sails further and further, until in the end only the G4; apart from the storm jib that’s our smallest headsail; remained standing. We had arrived in Bass Strait and the „roaring forties“. Both gave us a little taste of what they are capable of: Two wave systems overlapped each other, making each other steep and high. Crests of waves broke all around us, spray flew.
Everyone was feeling a bit tired at the end of the day; two were actually propper seasick. (I also had to throw up once later that night). The only one who didn’t seem to mind the weather at all was Tobi!
Like a rock in the surf he stood down in the kitchen and worked at pans and pots: “beef tenderloin on rice with onions in red wine sauce” was on the menu. Just as the sun was setting, the hatch opened and Tobi stuck his head outside the companionway: „Would you rather have your steak rare or well-done?“ – I tell you: This was delicious… and it tasted twice!
4th day at sea
This night we expected the Easterly Change. It was pitch black! Neither moon, nor stars were visible. Only the digital numbers showing our compass course featured some illumination. It was sometime around midnight when the wind shifted about 120 degrees from north to southeast without any notice and in the snap of a finger.
We had to do a tack, which took a few minutes to prepare in the darkness and strong swell. No sooner had we tacked than I thought the wind had shifted again! But as I squinted my eyes and concentrated onto the compass in front of me, I realized I was going in the wrong direction. – In the hustle and bustle of the sails and backstays I had simply lost my orientation.
Oops! Well, figured out that, we went on towards Hobart with not less than 10 knots thanks to the strong current and good routing.
As the morning dawned and the coast of Tasmania appeared on the horizon, the sea acted as if nothing had happened: The water was completely calm and the sky midsummer blue. The heavy weather clothing gave way to sunscreen and goggles.
A high-pressure system lay over Tasmania, which should detach itself from the coast during the day and move to the east. To benefit from the new wind as early as possible, we disregarded all the golden rules „for sailing along the Tasmanian coast“ and sailed close under land.
With the light wind and our broken spinnaker boom, we were now of course at a huge disadvantage to our competitors. To make the best of the remaining resources, we unceremoniously knotted one eye of the spi to the bow and drove it as a Genacker, which worked not so bad.
5th day at sea: After just two hours of sleep, I was awakened in the morning: „All hands on deck! The helicopter is coming!“ Barely getting my eyes open, I slipped into my ski underwear and rain gear. We had already rounded Tasman Island with famous „pipes“ during night, but unfortunately without seeing anything of it.
More breathtaking was the sight for it now: Storm Bay was immersed in the golden light of the rising sun and five yachts – all in sight – racing simultaneously in the direction of the Derwent River entrance: Iron Pot Lighthouse.
We all made it up to the edge just in time to wave at the camera, looking like the real pros. We were circled a few times before it then flew out towards the open sea, the hum getting quieter and quieter.
In us the ambition was awakened! After more than 600 nautical miles, it got once again really exciting! We trimmed the sails perfectly; according to the computer we sailed with more than 105% of our theoretical performance – despite the tide running out! It was a head to head race! In Storm Bay we overtook Cyan Moon and even left three more competitors behind us in the Derwent!
The reception at the finish line was terrific! Although it was still early in the morning, the quay was filled with spectators. Everyone was cheering and waving, shouting congratulations. Even a big German flag could be seen amongst them! Friends brought us appetizers, croissants and beer. We enjoyed ourselves and celebrated until late in the evening!
With corrected time results we reached the finish line after 3 days, 19 hours, 32 minutes and 15 seconds! We got in as the 88th out of 109 teams and 6th out of 18 in our division, closely followed by Rêve, who came in seventh place – only 10 seconds slower. 10 seconds – on 650 nautical miles race! Unbelievable! An insane experience! Thank you for having me on bord!