It was a very emotional crew of the Esperance-based Salona 44, Anger Management, that stood on the dock at around midnight on December 29. They had just become only the second yacht from the small Western Australian town to complete the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, and had gone through gale force winds in Storm Bay as a cold front swept through only a few hours before.
Skipper Tim Stewart was fulsome in his praise for the entire crew but he reserved special words for his bowman, Robbie Johnston.
“When it's dark and it's howling and no-one wants to go up there, you guys (his foredeck crew) were there. Trying to change sails today, that was (expletive deleted) terrible!”
It was a pretty horendous day, weather wise, he commented. “I was waiting for someone's rig to come down and just hoping it wasn't ours.”
Johnston not only ran the bow, he also cooked every meal on board as well. Stewart described the effort as “super-human”.
“I reckon he got about five minutes sleep the whole way.”
Early in the race, Johnston was cooking the evening meal when the afterguard called for a spinnaker change. “I left them to it,” Johnston said, but then he heard the sail hit the deck and loud yells from the bow.
“After that, it was 'turn the oven off, do the sail change, then get on with the cooking'.”
Johnston is one of Esperance's top sailors in his own right. For years he campaigned an old Duncanson 34 named Hellfire and often beat newer production boats in the 40 to 43ft range. He now owns a bigger yacht and is still a force to be reckoned with in club races.
The tough farmer was very emotional as he stepped off the boat in Hobart, knowing how much effort he and his crewmates had put in to get the boat prepared and then to race the 628nm journey. Fighting back tears as he hugged his wife Suzi, the relief was apparent that the ordeal was finally over.
But a few beers later, and the discovery of the bottle of rum that had been smuggled on board but not opened, and the normal happy face was back in evidence.
Crewman Mark Quinlivan joked that the boat captain had told them, “No coke on board, we've got to save weight”.
“So we got Pepsi instead.”
Three hours later at the Customs House hotel, the boys from Esperance, some still in their wet weather gear, were well into their next challenge – to drink Hobart dry.
– Roger McMillan