A long, long time ago, when I was in primary school, I learnt a delightful piece of doggerel that goes like this:
Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.
These simple words should be etched in brass and mounted on the wall of every sailing club in Australia, because they pretty much summarise what our sport is all about. And they are particularly relevant to some of the stories in this issue of Australian Sailing + Yachting.
The prime topic among ocean racers recently has been the high casualty rate in the Volvo race. The VOR 70s were supposed to be state-of-the-art, high-tech, unbreakable, carbon fibre speed machines, capable of handling whatever nature decided to throw at them. But by my reckoning the current score is something like Nature 7, Volvo Boats 0. You can read a couple of theories on what’s going wrong, starting on page 28.
The encouraging thing is that even when they were badly broken, Camper, Telefonica and Groupama kept sailing, which is what handling the weather at sea is all about.
Further into the magazine, Alan Lucas offers some sage advice on what to do when storm force winds hit you in mid-ocean. In a classic Lucas understatement, he writes that “running off heavy weather for longer than a couple of days is extremely tiring...”
This brought back memories of a two-handed crossing of the Great Australian Bight I did in 2009, with a crewman who was being violently seasick every 10 minutes. When we were hit by gale force winds on the third night and various parts of the boat tried to smash themselves to pieces, we threw out the sea anchor and weathered the weather until Ray was fit to resume.
I also had some flashbacks when reading Les Powles book Solitaire Spirit for the book reviews on pages 88 and 89. Although in a better boat and better-prepared than Les, his descriptions of solo sailing thousands of miles from the nearest help certainly made me recall some of my own less-than-textbook experiences alone on the ocean. But both of us managed to weather the storms and make it safely back to harbour.
Winter is now upon us and that will bring its own challenges. The ORCV winter series on Port Phillip Bay will no doubt see days of at least storm-force winds, yet the intrepid Victorian yachties will be out there with reefed mains and tiny headsails, bashing about in the elements to their heart’s content.
In various locations around NSW, Queensland and WA, hundreds of boats will be floating motionless on a glassy sea, enjoying some of those glorious winter days that have everything a sailor could want - except wind.
And in Tasmania they’ll no doubt be scraping the ice off the decks at the RYCT before heading out onto the Derwent in full thermals, just like they did last year.
One of the first things we learn when we start sailing is that we have no control over the weather. We take whatever Hughie sends us. So we quickly adopt that old mantra - we’ll weather the weather whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.
Happy winter sailing.