One of those promises was that I would stop procrastinating and that we would buy a computer for home so that our two children Holly (7) and Jordan (5) could have their education enhanced. Today is 25th April 1998 (Anzac day) and I am pleased to report that I am preparing this journalistic marvel sitting at our nice new computer desk resplendent with printers, scanners, discs, joysticks, etc. It is not possible to give you a complete, blow by blow description of our problems on board "SOLO GLOBE CHALLENGER", however I will try to give you a thumbnail overview.
Stainless Steel Wire Rope
Five Lake Macquarie yachts set out from Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day 1998 in pursuit of their own personal "Everests". It is important to remember that the crews of RUFF N, TUMBLE, AURORA, NEW HORIZONS and INNER CIRCLE have their own dramas to tell of and their own share of deep inner thoughts to contend with and that the SOLO GLOBE CHALLENGER story is but one of many.
On board our beautiful Cole 43 were Bob Snape, Glen Picasso (Cyril), Keir Enderby, David Marshall, Dave Cook (Cookie) Keith Molloy (Two), Tony Purkiss and myself, Tony Mowbray.
The experience of the above bunch of ratbags is widely varied from blokes like my mentor of many years (since I was 13) Bob Snape, competing in his 23rd Hobart, through to guys like David Marshall and Cookie with limited coastal experience as in Pittwater-Coffs, Sydney-Gold Coast race etc. Certainly Cookie and Dave had been nowhere near Bass Strait previously.
The morning of the race brought with it a forecast of a South West Front to arrive in the early hours of the next morning (Sunday) with winds of 50 knots (approx 100k/h). Throughout the year a current of warm water flows from the equator and heads south, hugging the coast of New South Wales and South East Victoria. This current (set) runs at varying strengths and generally related to the water temperature. The set normally runs at a speed of between nought and up around 2.5 knots with water temperatures of around 18degrees in winter and up to as high as 23degrees in summer.
The start of the Hobart saw a water temp. of around 26-27deg. with the set hurtling south at 4 knots. The first exceptional piece of an exceptional jigsaw!!!!
We started in a nice Nor' Easter. We got a reasonable start and as we worked up the harbour we were overtaken by a fair few of the lighter boats that perhaps had not got the best start, however at the rounding of the seamark, we were ahead of our sisterships POLARIS and RUFF 'N' TUMBLE and so we were happy enough. The East North East breeze freshened as the afternoon wore on and we carried a full main and 3/4oz. kite and absolutely ripped down the coast compliments of the huge set and favourable breeze.
An indication of the overall speed of the fleet is shown by the fact that at the time of the first radio schedule at 8.00pm Saturday night and at the time of the second "sched" at 3.00am on Sunday morning the entire fleet were ahead of MORNING GLORY'S position when she set the record a couple of years before. Additionally, 75% of the boats were still ahead of MORNING GLORY at 2.00pm on Sunday (25 hours after the start) when all hell started to break loose!
Throughout Saturday night and the early hours of Sunday the breeze swung through the North to the North West and then onwards past West before settling down to West South West and building all the time in intensity until around 9.00am we had approximately 40 to 50 knots and we were down to our smallest sail on the boat, the storm jib. The wind and the seas continued to build so that by midday our storm jib was a threat to our wellbeing if left up in the 60 knots along with the increasingly huge and confused sea state that was starting to throw absolute cliff faces of water at us.
These walls of water were a result of the fast running current and residual North East swell meeting waves being generated by the 60 knot blow and so at midday we lowered our storm jib and proceeded under "bare poles". At the change of watch at 2.00pm I handed the helm to "Cyril" after first tuning him in to the conditions, the boats behaviour etc. Keir, "Two" and Tony Purkiss came up with "Cyril" as well for the proposed 4 hour watch.
At this stage I was relaxed about the situation and went below at approx 2.30pm leaving the boat in capable hands and to catch up with Bob Snape who had locked onto the radio sched that started at 2.05pm. As I had not slept since the start of the race, I decided to hop into the port quarter berth to rest these weary old bones and lay there with my head forward, snugged up behind the navigation station where Bob was sitting with the HF radio on and we both listened to the drama as it started to unfold. Not for 1 second thinking that we would be a part of it and certainly not to the degree that we eventually were.
The guys on deck were toughing it out as the wind increased even further and as time went by the sea state became worse until at 4.00pm we were hit by a wave that had "our name" on it and our lives changed forever. This wall of water picked up our 8 ton yacht and threw us down as if we were a rag doll finishing in an upside down position, about 145deg off vertical and then surfed us down the face of a 60 feet monster wave for approximately 20 seconds, still upside down. The mast snapped off just above the boom while we were inverted.
"Cyril" was thrown into the water and trolled behind the boat like a fishing lure attached only by his safety harness, sustaining a fractured rib cage, a broken bone in his wrist and a bad laceration to the head. Keir also did his rib cage in, was knocked unconscious and when the boat righted itself he was trapped with the broken mast pinning him to the port side liferails, threatening to snap his legs like a couple of carrots. Tony Purkiss suffered a laceration to his head requiring 10 stitches and also snapped his left leg just below the knee cap and poor old "Two" was speared into a winch backwards and later came out with the most incredible bruise across his lower back, down his right buttock and along his right thigh.
Down below it was mayhem as during the "swim" a 6mm perspex skylight above the port quarter berth had stove in allowing huge amounts of water in, picking up my ample body washing me out of the bunk. The water hit the navigation area and exploded into all the radios, phones, nav gear, notebook computer used for the SatCom C position reports and took out various parts of the motor etc etc etc.
When we were the right way up again I struggled to the hatch, threw it back and was confronted with a scene not unlike something out of a war movie.
Right at that point we were in a lot of trouble.
One more wave of that nature right then would have probably put us under!
It was time for action. "Two", "Cookie", Dave Marshall and myself went forward and it took us 10-15mins to release the rigging and let the mast, boom, brand new furler and mainsail slide over the side to join the spray dodger of which I now only had a strip of fabric 300mm by 60mm and 3 eyelets left.
We had a "gutful" of water down below, Bob had started bailing and had triggered both EPIRB'S after trying to get a radio message out but to no avail due to the water penetration. In the cockpit the guys were bailing and pumping as well, and had released Keir. "Cyril"had climbed on board as he had decided to continue the "GILLIGAN'S THREE HOUR TOUR" with us and had resumed steering, endeavouring to hold the boat at the best angle to the seas.
After the boat was pumped out and made as ship shape as possible (given the 80knot plus, approx 155k/h winds) we were now experiencing, the near white out conditions and the absolutely killer waves that were 60 feet and higher we managed to get Keir and "Cyril" down below onto sailbags. Tony Purkiss said he couldn't get down below because of his 'sore' (broken) leg and sat in the cockpit ALL NIGHT!!!!
We then ran with the wind and waves square to our stern, steering 060deg in absolutely atrocious conditions for 15 hours and I felt we would be lucky to survive. That night was an incredible night in my life and the life of my crewmates and is a story to tell on its own. Finally at about 6.30am the next morning, the conditions showed signs of abating and at about 8.30am we heard a "chopper". After letting off 3 flares he zeroed in on us and took "Leggy" Purkiss off along with "Cookie" and Dave Marshall and flew them to Mallacoota.
Conditions were now more manageable with breeze of approximately 50knots and moderate seas (comparatively speaking). We proceeded to build a jury rig using 2 kite poles and hoisted the tri-sail and storm jib in further moderating conditions. We started our little adventure approximately 30 miles into Bass Strait and about 30 miles to sea. When the "chopper" left we were 125 miles to sea so we had a "little bit of golf to play" to get back in to shore. We could not make much Westing but could secure some Northing so off we went.
That afternoon an ORION search aircraft flew over us, did a number of passes and left. The next morning another ORION located us and dropped a VHF radio to us and for the first time we were able to have some meaningful contact with the outside world. The ORION told us that the HMAS NEWCASTLE was 36 miles from our position and closing on us. The NEWCASTLE arrived and we bid farewell to "Cyril" and Keir so that they could receive treatment for their injuries, leaving Bob, "Two" and myself on board. At approximately 1.00pm on Tuesday we were taken in tow by a fishing trawler and towed to Eden at 7 knots for 15 hours arriving at around 4.30am on Wednesday morning, and glad to be there.!!!!!!
My crew, Bob, "Cookie", Keir, "Cyril", Dave, Tony and "Two" are men of truly outstanding courage and in my eyes are absolute champions. I am so very proud to have been in their company in late December 1998 and I will sail with them anywhere, anytime.
Tony Mowbray - Solo Globe Challenger