Runners-up conquer challenging conditions

Department of Defence

When the wind is strong enough to rip the sails from a yacht, courage comes from the little things.

That’s what Sydney to Hobart first-timer Able Seaman Olivia Hughes discovered last month when she sailed the famed ocean race aboard Navy One – the RAN Sailing Association’s 40-foot yacht.

“It was scary because I thought we were going to tip,” Able Seaman Hughes said.

“The boat was keeled way over and with each gust of wind it leaned even more.

“I kept thinking about my job, what I was doing with my hands, when I could sleep, eat and putting on enough sunscreen.”

The crew of 10 battled some of the worst weather in the race’s history to finish second in their division.

Although the Bass Strait winds were relentless, a decision by navigator Chief Petty Officer Mark Butler to hug the Tasmanian coast in the final hours paid off.

Navy One shot past 10 competitors approaching the finish, nabbing second place with the performance handicap system, which allocates a time correction based on previous performance and boat configuration.

“It was like a game of snakes and ladders,” Chief Petty Officer Butler said.

“Sometimes you get it right, other times it goes horribly wrong. We were very lucky.”

While the start is often cramped as yachts chop and change between Sydney Heads, competitors are separated by kilometres in the open ocean.

The navigator plots the best route through different weather systems, and tactics differ as crews try to gain an advantage from the wind.

Chief Petty Officer Butler said this year was particularly difficult because of random storms.

“We had a bit of everything – from nothing at all and drifting, to 50-knot winds and being blown sideways,” he said.

It was the RAN Sailing Association’s best result since Navy One was purchased in 2017.

The boat withdrew last year after a cracked boom, handing the Oggin Cup – a race within a race between Army and Navy – to the soldiers.

This year Army’s yacht, Gun Runner, withdrew before the race.

Navy One finished the 630-nautical-mile journey in four days, 17 hours and 23 minutes, arriving in Hobart after the setting sun.

Keeping with tradition, first-timers jumped into the harbour to celebrate.

“Our families were all there to meet us. Someone handed us a beer and we jumped into the crisp Tasmanian water,” Able Seaman Hughes said.

“After more than four days of work and not showering, it was well worth it.”

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