The seaway south of Sydney is ugly in a southerly. Some will tell you that this is because of the south-bound current running up to 3 knots, but I think it is because this ocean is just like everything else in Australia: both breathtakingly beautiful and fully committed to killing you.
Right about 4pm on December 26th, this seaway was bad and getting worse. The call came up the rail to change down to the J5. I looked up towards the bow and a few things immediately sprung into my mind: (a) from where i was hiking, 3rd back from the front of the rail, the bow was at least 55 feet away, and (b) it sure seemed to spend 90% of the time submerged in green water. This was definitely going to get interesting.
December 26th. Boxing day. When I was a little kid, this was a truly special occasion: unencumbered by the endless pre-christmas waiting and painfully good behaviour, one could finally get down to business and play with new toys.
This December 26th, 2014, was a similar special occasion of a more grown-up sort: the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race, on Manouch Moshayedi’s brand new toy – the Rio 100.
After a successful season on the European TP52 circuit, I think Manouch wanted to get down to the most serious business a west coast sailor can contemplate: an attack on the Transpac Barn Door trophy. Working with Keith Kilpatrick and Gavin Brady, Manouch came up with the idea for the maximum length, yet fixed-keeled and fully human powered, Rio 100.
Rio 100 was launched a few months back and promptly won the Yates Cup in New Zealand. Following this auspicious debut, Manouch, ever ambitious, entered her in “the classic.”
Clearly, this was a bold move. Optimized for light to moderate running on the long clean waves of the pacific, Rio 100 was taking a step out of her element by challenging the notoriously violent and all-wind-angles Hobart race course. Not to mention the 4 other super-maxi 100 footers each equipped with canting keels.
Manouch assembled an international team comprised of Americans, Australians, Kiwis, Dutch, and British. We were 22 strong on the water, and I have to immediately point out that to a man they were all professional, competent, and committed to getting the most out of the Rio. I don’t have time to talk about everybody by name- but that’s a little taste of life on board the super maxi, you don’t see guys who aren’t in your area all that much.
The leadership team comprised of Manouch as skipper, Gavin Brady as strategist/tactician, and Peter Isler as navigator. Peter van Neikerk and Mike Mottl stood tall as watch captains. From a bowman’s perspective it is a very big deal to have guys this competent, accomplished, and talented calling the shots- each one of them knows what can be done and what is dangerous to attempt up front, and they took every step needed to protect us while we wrestled with the massive sails up front.
The middle of the boat was anchored by lead grinder Jeff Messano and “Big Mike” Howard along with Mike Van Dyke. These guys have the hearts of lions and besides blasting our sails into the sky, they fearlessly charged to the point to help us out when we got into trouble.
I was proud to back up two of the best bow guys in the game: Sean “Doogie” Couvreau and Morgan Gutenkunst. With me on the mid bow was Tyler Wolk, an up-and-coming pro bowman from newport beach. Along with Alistair Campbell and Mike Pentacost in the pit, we had a solid team with which to do the wild work that was called for on deck.
The thing about just about every job on the super maxi is that tasks you would normally do with one hand on a yacht race instead take 2 people to accomplish… When you are attempting an upper-range jib change on the first afternoon of the race, this is a lesson that slaps you across the face, repeatedly.
As the grinders ground the J4 down to the deck, i washed about the mid bow like a rag doll- fists clutched around spectra taffeta, floating in a sea of foam, sailcloth, and fellow sailors. I hit the end of my tether at least four or five times in the first minute alone. I could barely see on account of the spindrift blasting in a constant stream over the rail, and for a moment i started to question whether this was something that could actually be done.
But as I mentioned- our leadership team was impeccable and our middle of the boat courageous and supportive. Gavin turned the boat off of the wind so we could gain control, and the grinders rushed the bow, bringing 6-8 hands to bear on the jib. We got her back to the rail, into a bag, and down below.
As I gathered my nerves on the rail, i was soaked to the bone, battered and bruised, physically exhausted, and only 60 miles into a 600+ mile race.
Things had escalated rather quickly.