Audacious withdraws from Melbourne to Devonport ocean yacht race

After a troubled delivery from Adelaide to Melbourne, Stuart Johnson’s Sydney 38 Audacious has had to withdraw from the Rudder Cup, Melbourne to Devonport ocean yacht race. The crew is very disappointed but also accepts that this happens with sailing.

Johnson and his crew left Adelaide two days late due to weather conditions and then left at the end of a gale, which was abating.  They left under a storm jib but still blew out their delivery main even though reefed.  They then had good conditions but only as far as Robe where they found themselves in thick fog and no wind.  Running out of time owing to work commitments, they left the boat in Portland until Thursday when a perfect weather window had opened for the run to Melbourne.

In the dark some 40 nautical miles from Portland they hit something which dragged the boat to a halt and turned it. They suspect that it was an unlit, unmarked fishing pot.

“We were on a dream run to Melbourne, we were on time to get through the rip on slack water.  We recovered the boat really well but had to go back to Portland,” Johnson said.

Although they had a professional diver on board it was decided not to put someone over the side to examine the damage. It was dark, although coming up on dawn, and the boat was on the edge of Bass Strait.

“Our objective was to get everyone safe.  We enacted our safety procedures for rudder problems and it was all very smooth.  We got everyone on deck but realised it was not a simple steering problem so decided to turn back to Portland and not continue to Melbourne.”

The boat returned safely to Portland under the emergency rudder and whilst it is not a difficult repair the boat does need to be slipped and it does need parts.

“We are in awe of the people of Portland. We got so much support, people were calling other people in from all over trying to find a solution. We could have gone around to a slipway at Port Fairy but with water coming into the boat and the difficulty of getting parts at Christmas we have to err on the side of safety.”

Johnson and his crew have returned to Adelaide and informed race management that they hope to make the start of the race next year.

“In hindsight we should have left a month earlier as the delivery is longer for us than the actual race,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Melbourne to Hobart Race Director, Nick McGuigan sent a warning to the fleet about the expected weather for the first few days of the race. Where we usually expect Race Directors to be warning about poor and deteriorating weather conditions, he was in fact warning about the heat.

Currently the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting temperatures around 38 degrees with the additional complication of very light wind conditions. He has asked all skippers to carefully review the water requirements for their journeys considering these conditions.

McGuigan said, “The last thing we need is crews chasing breeze in Bass Strait without enough water to sustain them for the journey to Hobart. It’s not like they can pull into a service station on the West Coast of Tasmania. Water obviously is required for crew health but also is important for crew morale. Perhaps it is timely to remember that Captain Bligh was cast adrift for denying his crew water in similar conditions.”

Melbourne to Hobart and Melbourne to Devonport Fleets will start from the vicinity of Portsea Pier at 12 noon on the 27th December.

– Jennifer McGuigan, ORCV Media

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