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The stormy 24 hours before Sydney arrival – Captain’s Blog by Jens

OoH May 28, 2015, by Jens Als Andersen in Yacht

As part of our Circumnavigation of the world, S/Y Oceans of Hope has now arrived in Sydney, Australia, after crossing the Tasman Sea.

A crossing of this notorious sea, lovingly known to Australians and New Zealanders as “The Ditch” would at any given time be a challenging 1.200 Nautical miles of open ocean crossing, and doing it in May, when it is autumn in the southern hemisphere, even more so.

Oceans of Hope is a Challenge 67 built for this, but we were aware that it could be a strenuous experience. The boat was ready after some service jobs in Auckland, and a weather forecast, which predicted all types, shapes and sizes of weather, from 0 to 40 knots from all the directions on the compass.

In Auckland we welcomed the new crew of five sailors living with MS and our onboard doctor. As always, the departure entails a thorough briefing specifically on safety features.

Leaving Auckland on Thursday May 14, the first days out entailed a Northwesterly, which unfortunately was the direction in which we were going as we needed to sail 200 nautical miles from Auckland to the Northern tip of New Zealand before turning due west towards Sydney.

The good thing was that this made us seek shelter in two secluded bays up the coast the first two nights, as we needed to preserve our strength for the crossing of the Tasman Sea, with the added bonus of waking up with the most beautiful views of rugged cliffs, remote forests and isolated beaches.

Finally, the wind turned round to the west and further to the south giving us a good run up the coast and onwards offshore towards Sydney.

After four days of sailing in 20 – 30 knots with a building and sometimes confused sea state, the wind all but died out and we shifted from life of the healed over sailing in strong winds to somewhat different motor sailing across the endless sea. We only met two other sailboats on the New Zealand coast and only one commercial vessel when we left New Zealand until we were within 100 miles of Sydney. In between, we were the only vessel in this part of the Ocean.

The conditions the last day, were however about to turn to a full gale as we had been warned that we would be encountering strong winds from a new low pressure situated south of Australia which would sweep our route with winds increasing to as much as 55 knots ! in the end we had sustained 40-45 knots gusting 53. The wind scale description translates this into force 9 Strong Gale with gusts of force 10 Storm. Not the kind of weather you would choose, but when at sea you may have to deal with. Fortunately, the wind quickly veered south so we shouldn’t beat against it. The boat was ready with the smallest of sails, three reefs in the mainsail and only the Cutter sail in front of the mast. The increase in wind strength meant that the movements of the boat obviously became more and more violent as the sea state was building. Food was down to freeze dried foods and sandwiches and most of the crew collecting new bruises to the already impressive collection. During daytime the scenery was impressive, with foam blowing of the wave tops, and visibility changing from heavy showers to clear visibility.

We were making very good progress towards Sydney and were about 70 Nm from the harbour, when night fall came, thus making the helmsman’s job a lot more difficult, as we during the day were able to see the largest of the waves, and especially the ones, which were breakers. This was not possibly at night to the same extent and one of them caught us out with a full broach as a consequence. All our essential gear was of course well secured, but everything not bolted down was catapulted into the leeward side of the boat, including crew members who were not in their bunks or already in the lee side. The crew on deck naturally had their life harness on so we were all safe at all times, but it was a brutal reminder of the forces of nature, when a single wave can throw a 40 tons yacht on the side. Everybody on board reacted excellently and immediately checked in with each other to make sure that everyone was OK, and then that the boat was OK. Some of our electronics was damaged by water, and some of our gear in the stern was damaged by the wave. Down below it was mostly the galley, which looked different as most all of the gear was ejected from Port to Starboard including fresh fruits and vegetables, which made a mess of it all.

Over the next hours the wind strength slightly decreased as we carried on towards Sydney where we arrived at Neutral Bay without further incidents at 04:30 in the morning, making Bosun Bertram the winner of the onboard bet on what time we would arrive.

Upon the crew and boat arriving to Sydney, Founder and CEO of Oceans of Hope Mikkel Anthonisen elaborates "The crew can be so proud of how they have overcome this challenge of crossing the Tasman Sea in the autumn and met the stormy weather, working together as a team. Being at open sea in a small boat is somehow a metaphor of MS and life in general. We are all very small and vulnerable in the forces of nature, whether it is a storm at sea or the sudden outburst of a disease that changes our lives from one day to the other. We cannot control our lives. Being on a boat shows us that - and brings us together in the acknowledgement and creates strong bonds between us. We can prepare ourselves by achieving skills and taking the necessary safety precautions and try to act prudently. And then we all have to throw ourselves into life and live it the best we can. So that when we leave this world we can say: I was here, I lived my life!"

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This article was written by

Jens Als Andersen

Boat manager and skipper