So, you want to do a Sydney Hobart Yacht Race?
For many sailors, the Sydney Hobart is considered the pinnacle of offshore racing. Whether you want to do a bucket list race or it’s recurring affair, the allure of the Sydney Hobart draws sailors from near and far to make the epic journey south.
But, it’s not a race to be taken lightly.
The yachts and crew often cop a beating heading down the NSW East Coast, through the Bass Strait, around Tasman Island and across the aptly named Storm Bay. One of the worst squalls I’ve ever seen was in the Derwent River which is usually known for the frustration it causes due to lack of wind as crews try to get to the finish line. You never know what’s going to come your way.
Before you set off, especially if it’s your first time, you want – and need – to be prepared.
Moreover, you’re very unlikely to get a crewing position if you’re not well prepared and experienced enough to make the voyage, nor should you attempt to join a team that’s lackadaisical about experience and preparedness on their yacht.
Let’s look at some of the things you, as a crew member, can do to get yourself onboard a yacht and make sure you’re prepared for the race.
1. Build up your experience
If you’re looking to head to Hobart, or any significant offshore race, offshore sailing experience is your friend.
To qualify to complete in the Sydney Hobart, at least 50% of the yacht’s crew are required to have completed a Category 1 race or an equivalent passage.
If you are new or relatively new to sailing, don’t set your sights on doing a Sydney Hobart right away. Not only does this pose a potential risk to yourself and others, but you’re very unlikely to find a crew position if you don’t have significant offshore experience.
Start out with shorter offshore races or passages, then work your way up to longer offshore races or overnight passages.
Delivery trips are a great way to gain offshore experience. There are lots of yachts looking for help to get back from Hobart, and this is a great stepping stone to gain experience before doing the race. However, delivery trips aren’t without risks, so make sure you’re adequately prepared for the voyage and there are experienced sailors on-board who are familiar with the yacht.
I cover some tips and steps on how to gain experience and work your way up to doing a Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in the MySail blog.
2. Get some sailing qualifications
In order to enter the Sydney Hobart, at least of 50% of the crew need to hold a valid Australian Sailing Safety and Sea Survival Certificate or an approved equivalent.
In addition, at least two crew members need to hold a current Senior First Aid Certificate or equivalent qualification, or be a practising medical practitioner, and two crew need to hold a Long-Range Marine Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency (LROCP) or higher qualification.
Gaining these qualifications give you a competitive edge on the competition when looking for a crew position.
You’ll also gain important skills and knowledge that will be useful on-board.
3. Find a crew position
Your next challenge is to find a crew position.
Most yachts build a committed team early in the season and then sail together in regattas and offshore races leading up to the Sydney Hobart.
It’s a requirement for any yacht entering the Sydney Hobart to complete a qualifying race of not less than 150 nautical miles, or qualifying passage not less than 24 hours, in the six months prior to the event.
Look for a yacht that has the Sydney Hobart in their race program, and try to get on-board early in the season. Most yachts will require their Sydney Hobart crew to commit to all of the lead-up races, especially the offshore ones.
You can look at the CYCA’s Sydney Hobart website for a list of race entrants, or a previous year’s list, to see who is, or is likely to do the race. Also check out the Sydney Hobart race page on MySail and add your profile there so skippers who are looking for crew can find you. Nothing beats meeting with people face-to-face, so head down to the CYCA or your local yacht club and start building and working on your network.
4. Prepare for the race; body, mind and soul
If you are working towards doing a Sydney Hobart, make sure you’re physically and mentally prepared for the race by the time December 26 rolls around.
Physical preparation will help you cope with the fatigue and physical exertion required. Building good physical fitness, strength and stamina will help you keep going over several days, and help you recover after arriving in Hobart.
Get involved in as much of the yacht preparation as you can. Helping with maintenance and boat preparation will help you learn where things are and how things work; a great asset when you need to do something in a hurry, in a big sea, in the dark.
Lastly, with all of the preparation it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Take some time to make sure that you’re well rested and in a good frame of mind when the race starts.
5. Get your gear ready
Doing a Sydney Hobart is not supposed to be easy, or comfortable, but there are a few things you can do to stay as warm, comfortable and safe as possible during the race.
There is a lot of good gear on the market to help you stay warm and dry, so do your research and get a good set of wet weather gear. You will need a PFD fitted with a tether and PLB (personal locator beacon) which are required by all crew, and may want to consider getting a personal AIS which provides your location back to the yacht if you go overboard.
You might also want to carry other gear such as a blunt, serrated knife, watch, head torch with red light setting and personal seasickness medication. I wear a (very stylish) bum bag to carry this gear and my PLB, which is easy to grab if you need to go on deck in a hurry.
Make sure you have adequate layers and warm gear; thermals are extremely light and easy to pack, and will keep you warm. You’ll be very glad for these warm layers when a southerly front hits in southern Tasmania.
Don’t forget about your extremities either. I always take a waterproof hat, socks and gloves. If you get water in your boots the socks will keep your feet warm and dry. Especially for the women with long hair, a waterproof hat helps keep salt water out of your hair and your head warm and dry.
Pack your clothing and gear in waterproof or large ziplock bags to keep it organised and dry. This helps when storing gear in small compartments, makes it quick and easy to find gear in a hurry, and will stop dampness from infiltrating everything you own.
No matter how prepared you are, inevitably something will go wrong! But, that’s where all of your preparedness really comes in handy. With the right experience, knowledge and attitude amongst the crew, you’ll be able to tackle tough situations and have a great race.
Safe sailing and I look forward to seeing you on Constitution Dock in 2019!
– Deborah Dalziel