We left full of confidence in our ability to confront "come what may". The mood was reflective, positive and full of anticipation of a start that saw 115 yachts on the start line. All we had to do was get out of Sydney Heads without collision, or protest, prove a point that we weren't going to be left at the gun and race to Hobart. We had two marks to judge this by, one, a yacht of identical design sailed by seasoned and renowned skipper John Quinn.

The other by our good friend Peter Heanley and his crew on Ruff and Tumble, also on a Cole 43. A good work up the harbour sandwiched by some big yachts saw us do just that, out without dramas, but some early abuse and shouts, round the outside buoy, spinnaker set and off at a cracking pace, flying down the coast. We averaged over nine knots for the first 24 hours with John Quinn on Polaris going further out to sea for current and Peter a fair way behind us.

Keir - the author

This is what it's all about. Pushing it, we blew out our three quarter ounce spinnaker, but got the one and a half up pretty quickly, not quick enough for Tony Mowbray (but then it never is). The 1400 sked on Sunday put us 30 miles south of Gabo Island and well into Bass Straight when the wind started to increase and the seas started to build. We were committed.

The forecast at that time was for 45 to 50 knots from the west, we were already experiencing well over that from the SW, course about 180 degrees when Tony, Glen and Bob decided to shorten sail. I think in the previous watch we'd come down from a full main and a number two to two reefs and a number four, not in that order I might add but via the three and several reefs. The reef cringle pulled out of number two and we went down to the storm jib and no main, a wise choice but still over powered as the conditions continued to increase.

There is video evidence of this as Tony said "Things are getting a bit average when you're over powered by only a storm jib, get it down!" Gladly, we did, down to bare poles. No fun up at the pointy end, I can tell you!

At this point I would like to explain some things. There has been a lot said already about this race and the rescue, the cost and resources put into place. Let me begin by saying these resources, the man/woman power at the risk of their lives is an admirable thing. I owe all of these people a debt that can never be repaid but if I was put in their place would not hesitate and do the same thing. Humanity by its very nature strives to climb certain mountains, mountains that some will say don't need to be climbed, fine, but should we just stagnate and rest on our laurels? Is it all over? Can the common man not strive to see what he or she is made of, or should we just leave it up to the Ellisons and the Murdochs to pay professionals to find where our destiny lies? Challenging our own minds with no budget but a ton of guts and skill is what we were all about. Challenging the elements and not giving in. On this occasion the elements won, but do we stop sailing? No, we don't, we learn from it. Should the CYC be accountable? No, we were all out there for our own reasons. We must learn from any mistakes made and we must review this event and improve safety for all those involved. I'm more alive sailing using what few skills I have than anything else I do. I love it and will continue to do what I love. I am not alone and it's the nature of my beast.

Solo Globe Challenger - On slips one week prior to Sydney to Hobart '98

SMASH, we get hit by a wave with no sail up, in survival mode. 150 degrees over we think, which means all on deck were well and truly under. Tony Purkiss's leg gets broken (we only find this out the next morning) he's still on watch all of the next night and I for one cannot comprehend how, walking on it and not crying out like some of us he managed it, an amazing piece of work! He requires major, major surgery and could be out for 18 months. Glen is shot out the back, holding on to breath hoping his harness doesn't break much like a fish lure spinning, Keith Molloy goes under and ends up with a bruise you'd swear was caused from some sexual fantasy (his) and I black out with broken ribs and come up with the mast on my leg. Tony Mowbray wakes up from a well deserved sleep, looks out of the companionway to see what looks like a war zone with blood pouring out of Tony and Glen, and says casually, "Glen, get back on the boat" a true statement, but an understatement I will never forget. and that was the easy part.

Bob, true to form is a calming influence, Dave Marshall and Cooky come up and find bolt cutters to free me, Pippin, another yacht is there but can do nothing and we cut away the rig.

The next installment reflects the most significant night of my life. I've had my share of adventures before, due mainly to my impulsive nature, and with no regrets. I've been in places where, on reflection I should not have been and I've confronted bigger people, smarter people and my fears. Importantly, I've made friends along the way that I'd put my right arm in the fire for and not hesitate. In short, my life has been full, I've no complaints and wouldn't change it for anything.

It's now about 1630 on Sunday afternoon. The mast, complete with a brand new main and rigging, new halyards, boom, everything that could punch a hole in "Solo Globe Challenger" is gone. Thank Christ.

Tony apologized later for focusing on just getting rid of it, apologized for not attending to the "wounded", but if a fly could have hung on to the "wall" at that stage, it would have seen all hands go into survival mode. It would have seen Purkiss with a broken leg at the mast with Tony, Dave and Cooky with Keith ordering tools from below. It would have seen Bob calmly finding everything and passing it up "daisy chain" via Glen and myself to where they were doing the dismantling. The fly by the way would have been shitting itself hoping the next wave didn't come down on us while we were doing it. That same fly was probably saying "there's blood over there but stuff it, I'm outta here!" I never saw that fly again......

The seas at that time were really huge, I remember just looking behind, and looking up. You just keep looking up, with the tops breaking constantly and the noise intense. Then it got dark.

Watches were set, with four on deck at all times and one below with Glen, Bob and myself. Due to injuries, the only option we had was for Tony to steer and this became an all night, quite superhuman stand for twelve hours without relief. I might say Purkiss never came down, but he did have a very seriously broken leg none of us yet knew about.

From my point of view, (hear would be more apt) This stand will go down in my memory as one of the most inspiring periods I've witnessed. Not because of Tony alone (taking nothing away either ) who was at the helm for over twelve hours in some of the most horrendous seas any of us are likely to encounter, but because of the character that came to the fore from people like Keith, Dave, Purkiss and Cooky. These guys never gave Tony a break, realising that this could indeed be It, he became our lifeline and they never let him lose sight of that fact. Their torment was relentless and it saved our lives. "Here comes another one Tony, concentrate", "Come on, you can do it!" "Focus Tony, think of Jordan"( his son), it just went on all night, determination from all on deck, clinging, hanging on and not giving up. There is nothing heroic about it, nothing eloquent or clever one can say, we were at the mercy of those seas at the time and I don't have any hesitation saying the power of that sea was in total control. I later found out there were two big ones staring at us, down the barrel. One where we were so steep and travelling so fast it looked as though the bow would bury and we'd pitch pole (end over end) and one where we were surfing sideways in the tube. During this ride, Tony, wondering why he was dry for once, looked above to see only smooth water curling above him and God knows how fast we were going! I was thrown from one side of the boat to the other at this time like our friend the fly hitting a windscreen. Both times we're let off the hook and spat out under the force of those seas. Tony told me later he was sure he'd lose it and we'd do a 360 . Either scenario would have put everyone in the water again with results I don't want to even contemplate.

The upshot of this nights trial put us 180 nautical miles East North East of our original position. We'd travelled through the night with no mast and no motor, from a position 30 miles South of Gabo Island and well into Bass Straight to a position 180 miles East of Eden, unable to escape the storm and with no choice but to go with it. With no communication, it's not as if we could just call a cab. The very nature of ocean racing means no matter what the conditions one confronts out there, you are on your own. On a race track, you can just turn off the key and say "enough!" This is indeed part of the challenge, the good times find you off shore at three in the morning flying down the coast past the twinkle of shore lights knowing most are safe in their beds. You are in a world of your own, with the adrenalin pumping, pitying those asleep oblivious to the thrill. The bad times are nights like this, hoping someone is awake and aware of your circumstances. Our EPIRB's (we had two going and don't go to sea without one) were sending our distress message via satellite to people that could help.

We got through that night with tenacity and determination with no one expressing their real fears. My thoughts went at times with some finality, to family and friends. When daylight finally came and the beast finally moved away from the fire we had burning, we could hear that wup wup wup noise that Vietnam vets still dread, a chopper.

It sounded like music to me, our salvation and at last, contact with the outside.

Cooky, Dave and Tony Purkiss took the plunge. Just jumping into the water then, though it had abated somewhat, was too awesome to contemplate. Cooky and Dave had Life Jackets on, but Purkiss, having read somewhere that you'd float in your gear, boots and all, just jumped in! (After retrieving his wallet from below...he did have $1,000 in it, "Don't you trust us Tony?" another story!) To our amazement, the big bastard just floated on his back! (He does have a fair amount of hot air about him but it's a wonder he wasn't weighed down by all that black beer he drinks,) The rescuer from the chopper was extraordinary, jumping in three times tethered to the chopper with an umbilical cord that could have pulled everything into the water if it wasn't done precisely. The pilot was a magician. I now think they all are, but one mistake would have pulled everything and everyone back down into the water. I know it's their job, but they too are putting their lives, their families everything they hold dear, for a bunch of perfect strangers. I for one am not perfect, (I can't speak for Mowbray). But I know I do speak for all of us when I say how highly I regard these guys who made a really good day out of a really shitty one.

Then there were five, approximately 130 miles East of Eden with no rig. We then proceeded to rig some rag and contemplated repairing a very sick motor.

The jury rig, was built by erecting both spinnaker poles much like an upside down"V" secured at the chain plates amidships, with a forestay rigged to the bow via spectra rope, two back stays leading aft, also spectra, then blocks with halyards secured at the top of the "V" for hoisting sail. Not pretty, but efficient enough to give us about three to four knots in a North Westerly direction once the storm jib and trisail were hoisted. The wind had abated to around 20 knots at this stage but the rig we had up was bullet proof and we had full confidence in it. Glen and I then started to work on the motor.

The fuel tanks had copped a heap of water, possibly through the breather vents but the violence of the roll had also disturbed any "gunk"or fungus living in the bottom of the tanks blocking all the filters. Everything was pulled apart, and we drained nothing but water for about an hour from the tanks until clean fuel started to come through. The engine was bled repeatedly throughout most of that day, one filter was replaced and the primary filter bi passed due to the lack of a spare but still the motor wouldn't go. Fortunately we still had plenty of battery power.

The next morning an Orion commanded by flight lieutenant Paul Carpenter found us, again thanks to our EPIRB. The radio dropped by the chopper was now flat and again, we could not communicate. I wrecked our Nav station cushion by writing "NO RADIO, TOW!" (haven't got a bill yet) and we signalled in this fashion until we were understood. The Orion crew then dropped a box with pure water and another radio which we were able to pick up, pretty skilfully I might add by dropping sail and drifting over to it. Still, we only had one chance of picking it up and I doubt even then if anyone was going swimming!

Tony was then able to speak with the pilot who informed us the HMAS Newcastle was just forty minutes away, and a tow was en route. I could have danced a jig if not for the broken ribs but I was dancing up a storm on the inside.

The "Rubber Ducky" arrives from H.M.A.S Newcastle.
(Photograph taken from Orion Search Aircraft flying at 180 knots)

It then occured to us they could order us off the boat After what we'd been through and now under control the last thing we wanted was to abandon Solo Globe Challenger. So we had another go at the engine. One last bleeding of the complete system, some Aerostart into the air intake and it fired. The motor was running like a clock, we didn't know for how long, but they couldn't order us to abandon ship. Tony then spoke with Commander Steve Hamilton from the HMAS Newcastle and it was decided Glen and I would go, leaving Keith, Tony and Bob to accept the tow and get the boat home.

This grey monolith appeared on the horizon and was there in no time. A rubber duck was launched, I was pushed into it, (thanks Tony) and Glen and I were taken aboard. A medical check, hot showers, and four bowls of hot soup later things were looking up at last. We then found out the HMAS Newcastle had been looking all night for us, with no signal from our EPIRB and the word that night to family and media was that they had lost us. I can only imagine how they felt hearing news like this.

I can only put this down to the fact that we were using two EPIRBs and had turned one off to conserve its power. It must have already been dead, because that morning we turned the other one on again which was when the Orion found us. The HMAS Newcastle had been searching allowing for drift only, they were unaware of our jury rig pushing us in the opposite direction to their search and we were unaware of their search for us. Still, a happy ending and I thank the Commander and crew from the bottom of my heart for their endeavours.

The tow eventually arrived and steamed back to Eden with Solo Globe Challenger behind. Fifteen hours later they too could have showers and hot food.

The Commander put the hammer down and Glen and I were back in Sydney six hours later covering 180 nautical miles at a top speed of thirty knots, arriving to a media frenzy at Garden Island dock.

Solo Globe Challenger was later trucked back to Lake Macquarie, a very undignified end for a yacht that stood the test and kept us afloat when it counted, I'm sure it won't be the last time you hear about Solo Globe Challenger.

There was a period, now not as frequent, where sleep was impossible not re living some of this tale. Tony still chokes back a tear when you least expect it. After reflection I am proud to have been a small part of this incredible "Hobart", an experience that has changed my attitude considerably. A "Hobart" where lives were lost and families and comrades were devastated. I will also say that we are just a bunch of guys who love our sailing, not "weekend yachties" as one billionaire put it, but equals and in most ways, I say, better. Solo Globe Challenger had the combined experience equivalent to 48 Hobarts under our belt with a crew of eight. How many did "Sayonara" have with a paid crew of 22?

Crew and Family thanking Commander Hamilton onboard H.M.A.S. Newcastle - Australia Day 1999

Four party pies were consumed during this whole adventure, with none of Tony's famous pikelets and cream in Bass Straight. So much for breakfast and hence the title, it may give some idea as to the urgency of the situation throughout this ordeal.

Every year on Boxing day, I for one will be hoisting a few tall cold ones in honour of those who lost their lives and will celebrate the life I have. I'll be wearing that red Hobart cap like a red badge of courage and be proud of it, prouder of the family I have and cherish even more so now after this experience that I yearn for again.

See you on the Lake, (if it's not blowing too hard).

Keir Enderby - L.M.Y.C.

Crew -
Tony Mowbray...........Skipper, doing his 14th Hobart.
Bob Snape................Navigator, His 24th Hobart race.
Tony Purkiss.............Severely broken leg with a head wound requiring stitches. His sixth Hobart.
Dave Marshall............His first Hobart race but with many offshore races to his credit.
Dave Cook.................His first Hobart race again with offshore experience.
Glen Piccasso...........His 5th Hobart, broken ribs, head wound, cartilage damage to his wrist.
Keith Molloy...............His second Hobart, severe bruising.
Keir Enderby..............His second Hobart, two broken ribs.