Crew on deck for famous race

By David Kavanagh | posted on December 19, 2019

AN Albany trio will jet over east in the coming days to test their sailing mettle at the world-renowned Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

Owner of Southern Ocean Sailing Mark McRae, his colleague Corrina Ridgway and local GP Stephen Lee will join four sailors from Victoria for the 1170km race, which begins in Sydney on Boxing Day.

They will compete against 170 other yachts for the event’s 75th anniversary and are expected to spend more than three days at sea aboard Melbourne-based Joanne Harpur’s 36ft Spirit of Freya.

“The Sydney to Hobart is considered one of the great ocean races in the world and it’s a pretty tough one,” Mr McRae told the Weekender on Tuesday.

“I’m hoping we get weather that suits our boat and blows us down the coast. Arriving in Hobart, we’ll all have a lump in our throats, and it’ll be amazing.”

Mr McRae got his first taste for sailing as a child when he used to fashion together empty drums with bits of bamboo and string and take them down Wimmera River in Horsham, Victoria.

He has since been all over the world, commandeering yachts of up to 100ft in size through ice fields in Antarctica, around Cape Horn, to the Falkland Islands and through the Caribbean.

“I reckon if I don’t get my feet wet everyday with saltwater, I get withdrawal symptoms a bit like smoking cigarettes,” he said.

“It’s an addiction and it’s a terrific one. It’s such a glorious thing to do.”

While Mr McRae has previously delivered yachts to Sydney for the annual race, this year’s run marks his first personal attempt at it.

The 62-year-old will be the crew’s lead navigator and will be tasked with reading the wind, weather conditions and ocean currents to ensure a fast and safe run to the Tasmanian capital.

“Beyond that, there’s a lot of luck in sailing,” he said.

“People scramble and fight and scratch and spit and punch for the start line, but really it’s just a gust of wind at the other end that could get you across the line.

“With this race it’s probably about sailing at 85 to 90 per cent capacity.

“Once we go over that, we’re putting a lot of pressure on the boat and the crew and we don’t want accidents or to break the boat. We want to get to Hobart in one piece.”

Although the Sydney to Hobart has been a relatively straightforward challenge in recent years, it has had its share of mishaps.

In 1998, five boats sank and six people were killed when a severe storm struck as participating yachts entered the Bass Strait.

The event was first held in 1945 and has since become one of the most widely known yacht races in the world.

Star yacht Wild Oats XI has won line honours on nine different occasions, first in 2005 and most recently in 2018.