02 June 2010
Another photo I dragged out of the lost files, I had my photo taken with the (now famous) Jessica Watson at the Spit Marina before her sail around the world. Sorry about us squinting into the sun, it was the best angle I could get.
I think my impressions at the time was that she'd probably make it. I'd had the chance to have a bit of a look around the boat and it seemed pretty well set up for the journey, and being an S&S 34 they were a good sea boat and several of them had made the trip before. Making the trip around the world on the clipper route in one piece is as much about the boat as it is about the person.
I was a little amused by the press releases saying how this "tiny little girl" was going sailing around the world. She's not that much shorter than me in fact, and I'm not a short guy. She has the slight build of youth but has that wiry muscularity that comes from getting out there and doing stuff. She didn't seem to me to be someone who would have any trouble hauling on a halyard when required, and the boat was relatively well furnished with winches and the like. I would have added a boom bag and lazyjacks for the mainsail, I find that single handing is much easier with them than without, especially when it comes to dousing the main.
In summary, though, I think she did get lucky. Out in the southern ocean from time to time there will be winds, swells and seas that will knock out any boat. Many highly experienced sailors in good vessels have lost either ship or life or both out there. She seemed to have a pretty good shore team and a weather router that navigated her past the worst of the weather she would otherwise have encountered on the trip, so there was probably as much technology involved as luck. Also, it should be noted, she was not racing and therefore not tempted to push into the worst of the weather zones to gain a bit of extra speed.
I'm reminded of a story from The Coastal Passage issue 41 (click here if you want to read it of a boat that was found sailing along by itself in the southern Indian Ocean, its dead skipper still tethered to a harness, still in his wet weather gear, and being dragged along behind the boat. He had obviously been hit by a heavy wave, washed overboard, and been unable to make it back on deck. That sort of thing does happen at sea -- the shortest lack of concentration at the wrong time or simply bad luck and it's all over.
So I'm glad she made it, but don't try this at home children.
Here is a photo from last year, on the return leg coming back from Lord Howe Island. I was going over some old albums with the view to uploading them into Picasa when I found this photo, which I was sure I'd taken but thought I'd lost.
We had a tailwind behind us, a pretty steady 15 knots or so, without changing much for about 2 days. So we doused the mainsail and poled out the genoa to leeward, and the staysail came up from down below. I have the genoa on a furler but the staysail is hanked on and normally lives downstairs below the forepeak, we pull it up on a halyard when we need it.
It was two days of the most pleasant sailing possible, giant sea spiders notwithstanding. By the end of it on my night watch I was considering hauling the crew up from downstairs with the call "we've had a wind shift, time to change sails" about every hour so they could experience what ocean sailing was really like. However at the end of 2 days we really did have a wind shift, it moved around to the north a bit so we got rid of the staysail and took the pole off the genoa -- 12 hours later it was peaking around 35 knots, still behind us and with only a 1.5 - 2m swell, so no major difficulties.
12 hours after that we were back in through Sydney heads, having covered the 420nm from Lord Howe Island to Sydney in a bit over 2 1/2 days.