January 8, 2019
So believe the weather models!
About how the famous Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race for the crew of the yacht under the Russian flag – SeaVentus Mahligai (Sydney 46) took shape, is told by the organizer of the participation of the Russian team Alexander Vodovatov and Anton Titorenko.
© Alexey Gumennoy and Oleg Nikolaichuk.
Another successful project of the Russian Offshore Racing Club SeaVentus (Russian Offshore Racing Club SeaVentus) has come to an end. Note that this was the third project organized by the club for attracting a fully Russian team to participate in Rolex Sydney Hobart. Now the regatta is over, emotions have subsided, and it's time to analyze the results and put all the memories "on the shelves."
To begin with, this time (however, as always), Sydney-Hobart showed its weather unpredictability. The traditional weather briefing for skippers and navigators did not promise any surprises. Several weather patterns, demonstrated by experts of the Australian Navy weather service, promised quite comfortable wind and wave conditions throughout the race.
In any case, during those three – three and a half days for which we planned to reach the finish line, all weather models promised a moderate tail wind of 10-20 knots with gusts of up to 25 and almost the same passing wave of 1-2 meters. And only one of the models said that right before Hobart, on the most southeastern corner of Tasmania, by December 30, there could be significant bad weather with a strong wind. But we, like the vast majority of crews, had planned to cross the finish line by that time.
Based on these calming predictions, we were building our tactics for the upcoming race. Looking ahead, let's say: nothing came true, except, perhaps, the direction of the wind. Only in this nature decided to coincide with the forecasts. But first things first.
Just before the start, the team came to bless father Nikita Chemodakov – rector of St. Nicholas Church in Ferfield. Of course, no one will refuse the help of Nicholas the Wonderworker, the patron saint of travelers, before going to sea. St. Nicholas helps always!
Starting in Sydney Bay is not an easy event in itself. In addition to the 85 launching boats, there are several dozens of judicial courts and safety boats, water police, boats with journalists and photographers, plus regular ferry flights that no one has canceled at a fairly small water area. In general, the flea market is such that often there are no signs showing the starting lines. Here it is necessary to follow not in both, but in all 24 eyes. The crew should be focused as much as possible, otherwise troubles are inevitable.
In this difficult situation, as always, our captain and helmsman Vladimir Chirkov brilliantly proved himself. No wonder Volodya is called the master of the start. It is a rare case when he would in some seemingly completely hopeless situation in some incredible way would not find an invisible “slit” and “millimeter” between his rivals would not lead the boat to the starting line in one of the best positions. So this time we crossed the start just a second after the gun shot, almost flush with a much larger rival, who ten seconds before unceremoniously tried to push us out of the starting line and capture the most advantageous position. And after the first turn, we were definitely ahead of the entire fleet, which took us off from the third starting line. (The Sydney-Hobart traditionally exhibits three starting lines at a distance of 200 meters one after another in order to distribute the fleet at least a little over the water area. To level the overall race distance at the exit from the Sydney Cove into the ocean, put three "retractable" signs at different distances from shores for each of the starting groups.). So, to get around the sign, after which our direct route to Hobart has actually begun, we not only broke away from “our own”, but also overtook most of the fleet that started on the line ahead of us.
A pleasant episode took place at the launch site: the head coach of the Australian sailing team, Viktor Kovalenko, came up to wish us success in the race on a boat. He is the real star of the sailing world of Australia, under his leadership the Australian yachtsmen have won 6 times at the Olympics. And at the same time, he and Vladimir Chirkov are also friends from their youth: both are members of the national team of trade unions in distant Soviet times. The farewell of such an eminent coach was very pleasant and inspiring. So what is next…
Then the ocean stage "Sydney-Hobart" with all its weather "surprises" began. To begin with, the promised 10–15 knot associated breeze turned out to be 20–25 knot. And the meter wave, promised by all forecast models, somehow imperceptibly, but quickly turned into 2 meters. Of course, such weather conditions did not frighten at all, but the “slight” discrepancy between the strength of wind and waves and the expected values was a bit alarming. Oh, I had to listen to the weather service officer at the briefing, when he casually mentioned that in these places, in these latitudes, the wind increase in squalls is not the usual 20-25%, and in most cases reaches 40% or more. We consider this, who knows how much more successful our result might be.
In the meantime, with the smallest and “heaviest” spinnaker, we were driven by our passing wave and 25-knot wind, and we left for the first night in this race. Our A-4 was designed for a maximum wind power of 30 knots. And, guided by the tactics built on the prognosis, we hoped to carry this little spinnaker for most of the night. Just in case, preparing for a quick statement of the A-3, much lighter and larger. Again, guided by the forecast for weakening wind.
Not all crews, even with considerable experience of racing in these waters, decide to carry spinnakers at night. In complete darkness, when you do not see the waves, you do not see how the sail works, and even in a weak wind, this occupation is very dangerous. But we decided to resort to the tactics tested in previous races, when the team absolutely concentrates and focuses on the most accurate control of the boat at night or in difficult weather. In past races, such a tactic definitely justified itself. If during the daytime, in the daytime, we could play a couple of places from our rivals, then by night we went around 15-20 boats. We decided to act the same this time.
But the weather had its own plans, and she did not read our forecasts. Unexpected (literally in 10-15 seconds) wind reinforcement up to 35-37 knots, a wave that unsuccessfully arrived at this very moment, a loud crackling of tearing fabric and … we saw the sky in the place where our A-4 was supposed to be. Ragged patches and luff belts rushed about randomly across the sky.
Our first job was surprisingly well coordinated. Fragments of the spinnaker, fortunately, were easily cleaned, and the halyard and the bras did not become entangled and did not hang hopelessly somewhere out of reach. The “zero code” was set up fairly quickly, and we continued on our way, although, unfortunately, we could not walk as fully as we had planned.
This is how the first amendment to the tactical scheme developed. In addition, we quickly realized that the wind is not only not going to return to the predicted values, but sometimes it also increases and sets a little. In general, very soon I had to mine and A-0, replacing it with the Jib-Top. And go a little sharper than planned. But globally, we still continued to perform the original tactical mission.
With dawn, it turned out that such a trick was not expected from the weather by very many, including extremely experienced crews. The 100-foot Scallywag from Hong Kong, declared in our division (PHS), caught a powerful impulse and stuck its nose in the wave, broke the bowsprit and was forced to go the distance. And, by the way, the team serving on this boat was the winner of the Australian stage (Melbourne-Hong Kong) and took second place at another stage of the famous Volvo Ocean Race-2017/18. So, the rivals in our division got very, very experienced, knowing these waters and ocean races not on films. Not "sofa skippers" at all!
Another 54-foot Calypso boat suffered steering damage and also left the race. There were losses in other divisions. The Hungarian team (boat "M3") on the TP52 broke the mast, another pair of boats left the race, damaging the feathers of the rudders. In total, at one time or another due to various serious breakdowns, six crews dropped out of the race.
In general, this race was just a supplier of weather surprises. Nobody expected such frills from the ocean expanses. The wind turned off and turned on, as if by magic. As if someone was messing with a giant switch. A good 20-knot wind literally in a few seconds gave way to complete (really complete!) Calm. At the same time, the wave, of course, remained. Such a lull could last 10-15 minutes, and maybe an hour and a half! And then, suddenly, in the same few seconds the wind rose to the previous 20 knots. And then he could for a few seconds even more nodes strengthened by 10.
For this race, we changed the sails so many times, as, probably, for all the previous offshore races of our club combined. And there were already a lot of them! Often, we changed the sail several times per watch. Exhausted scary! Especially our tank. And if other members of the team could afford the “luxury” to change into something dry, the tankers got everything wet through the first watches and went all the way through to the finish line wet. Even the heat-saving “blanket” – a lavsan film covered with heat-reflecting foil used by rescuers and climbers – under which they tried to warm themselves during rare breaks did not save. A little added strength except Guarana extract, taken with one of the team members.
Avraly on changing sails were so frequent that at one of these moments we missed the control session, for which we received a penalty of 30 minutes. For skipping one session put a penalty per hour. We were given 30 minutes just because we realized it was still a “reasonable” time – 15 minutes later than the set time. To our happiness, the organizing committee was still in touch, and we were not late for failing to leave the connection, therefore, we reduced the fine.
It was in this mode that the first two stages of the race passed – along Australia to Green Cape and through the Bass Strait.
As we wrote earlier, in my first article, upon seeing Tasmania, many believe that they have almost finished and relaxed. Tasmania does not forgive! You can not relax until the final whistle. So this time, when the turn of the Storm Bay and the mouth of the River Dervent remained 70-80 miles, we walked a full course, it seems under A-2, with a wind of about 20 knots. The wind began to change a bit, and we decided to change the spinnaker to zero. But after changing, after a couple of minutes, they realized that they would have to go further into tacking. The strange dark strip on the water away on the course made us alert and take, as it turned out, the only right decision – to put the smallest and strongest J-4 staysail at once. And then the wind came!
Almost instantly it inflated to 30 knots, and the oncoming wave (which was not even 20 minutes ago and in sight) began to significantly interfere with the smooth course of the boat, rising higher and higher. An hour later, it became clear that you need to take the first reef. After another half an hour – the second. After another hour, when the wind was already steadily blowing 40-45 knots, and the waves had risen to three meters (and sometimes almost 5-meter “elephants” rolled up), it was time for the third reef. As it turned out later, the most unlikely (one of the four) weather patterns worked. And it worked a day earlier!
It was decided that the most experienced helmsmen, Vladimir Chirkov and Murray Owen, would be at the helm. So they taxied, replacing each other out of all sorts of watches from morning to finish. And one of us all this time is uninterrupted – from 11 am to 2 am – he worked in the grotto-shells, helping the helmsmen. But all the rest had not at all sweet. Soaked to the skin and froze to the bone, regardless of the ocean suits that were put on on time! No one left to rest in the cabin, everyone remained on board, opening the boat as much as possible and getting every 15 seconds a cold shower from dozens of liters of water flying into you like a water cannon from another wave.
Especially got to those who sat closer to the guys and took these charges on themselves first, covering comrades. And it flew with such force that it was only possible to sit with its back turned to this natural hose. For a long time nobody stood there. So otkrenivayuschih also had its own rotation, since even this work could not be called easy.
At one of the moments, we heard Murray’s warning shout: “Wave !!!”. And in a second, a ton of water probably hit the boat. And the boat was shaken in such a way that the helmsman and main trimmer, who at that very moment escaped to the stern to tamp down the backstay, threw a meter into the air! If at that moment one was not firmly holding the steering wheel, and the other was not holding the winch handle, one would have to start working out the MOW procedure. For the first time in all the time (and we’ve already gone with three Sydney-Hobart), we saw Murray shivering from the cold when he went to change on the steering wheel of Vladimir Chirkov, after sitting in the first position for a couple of hours.
It was quickly getting dark, and we hoped only to clear the light at dawn at the entrance to the mouth of the River Dervent from Storm Bay. We have already figured out how to deal with strong wind and wave in a rather narrow mouth in the dark, how we can see the navigation and finish marks behind the big waves …
But it’s not for nothing that the old-timers say that often the Sydney-Hobart race just begins at the mouth of the Dervent! Once again, the weather surprised us with an unexpected surprise. At the mouth, not only did the wave quickly subside, but the wind was absolutely turned off! Absolutely! It could not even be imagined: some twenty minutes ago we were pressed by a 45-node wind and a 3-4-meter wave, and now we were surrounded by a “complete zero”, both by water and by air.
At some point, under the action of the current, we even moved backward – to the exit from the mouth into the ocean, into the Storm Bay. We were ready to drop the anchor in order not to lose the distance to the finish line! Fortunately, the coastal breeze, having gained a couple of knots of strength, stopped our drift from the finish. And after almost an hour, finally, he was able to move us in the right direction.
So we tacked. Now under the staysail, now under the spinnaker, now under the “zero”, and, thanks to Vladimir’s masterful taxiing, they were gradually approaching the finish line. And then the wind gave us another surprise – in 10 seconds (traditionally for the race of the year) it rose from 3-4 knots to 13-14, and we just flew the last couple of miles to the finish line.
Everyone is so tired that there is practically no strength left for the stormy joy. At the same time, the rising breeze played into the hands of some of our rivals. While we were idle in absolute calm, they approached us, reducing the backlog. And the steady steady breeze not only caught us at the finish, but also our rivals. As a result, according to recalculation, based on handicaps, we were only in seventh position, losing to our closest pursuers from 18 to 30 minutes. And this is despite the fact that they received a 30-minute penalty for skipping a communication session.
Be that as it may, everyone did it so well that they were not disappointed with a not very high result. Of course, we hoped for more, – after all, in the two previous Hobarts we showed the first and second results. Even set a record for the speed of the passage for their division. But this year it is safe to say that the Olympic principle formulated by Pierre de Coubertin has worked out: it is not victory that is important, but it is important HOW you participated. The main thing that you did for victory was EVERYTHING I could.
Our team really did what it could. To the fullest. Just this time the rivals turned out to be a bit more successful, a little more prepared. Let them wait for us next time!
The Russian offshore racing club SeaVentus thanks all participants in this challenging and dramatic race for dedication and absolute dedication: Vladimir Chirkov’s watch — Alexander Sarychev, Alexander Koltsov, Alexander Vodovatov; Murray Owen's watch – Artyom Gazarov, Oleg Nikolaichuk, Vladimir Oderov; Anton Titorenko's watch – Aleksey Humyonny, Anatoly Teplyakov, Igor Sukhov. Nobody shirked and did not “hurt”, but on the contrary, always, at the first call, not paying attention to the schedule of watches and accumulated fatigue, he simply went and did his job. And often he covered his comrades in difficult times, of which there were many!
New 2019 opens up great opportunities for new projects, we invite you, lovers of offshore regattas, to join our team! The calendar of new regattas will be published on the page of the SeaVentus offshore racing club on Facebook, awaiting such regattas as Rolex Fastnet Race 2019, as well as a new project in Asia – Hong-Kong Puerto Galera Race 2019 (Hong Kong-Philippines).
Alexander Vodovatov, Anton Titorenko.
Pictures of Alexei Gumenny and Oleg Nikolaichuk.
672 January 8, 2019 # 8712