Coming to Sydney was the next logical step. I’d seen the outback and some amazing sights on land and water in WA. So I was itchy to see my long lost relatives in Sydney and keep moving on. Australia isn’t the cheapest place to live and I was keen not to blow my bankroll on merely subsisting. I didn’t want to be in Oz just for the sake of being here. Its possible to camp, but not in the cities. So if you want to hang out where its at (man) you have to do the backpacker thing or stay in cheap hotels, which actually aren’t cheap.
Lucky for me the expatriate branch of the family are extremely hospitable and welcoming. I’ve been in Sydney the best part of a month now and have always been able to doss with a cousin or a niece. I thank you all. I hadn’t actually intended to linger this long. I’m always conscious of outstaying my welcome. By now I would have been in New Zealand. But as fate would have it, I had a call the other week to offer me a place in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race! Not just out of the blue like. I’d applied a while back for a crew place but hadn’t heard anything, so assumed it was a no go. The deal involved two weeks in the run up to Christmas in a Sydney apartment with the crew (the race starts on Boxing Day). Sailing every day in practice and preparation; entry to the Rolex Trophy Inshore Races, a sea survival course, an overnight sail, the race itself over five days, New Year partying in Hobart then sail back to Sydney for about the 8th Jan.
It’s the sort of thing I have only been able to dream of. It’s a really big deal race, up-there with the Fastnet. One of the top world sailing events. You are in competition with some of the best ocean racers on the planet. One of the few occasions where ordinary Joe Public like me can rub shoulders with the cream of the crop. I had a taster once before of this phenomenon with the New York City Marathon two years ago. I was in the same race, over the same course as World and Olympic champions. Paula Radcliffe was in the same race. It didn’t matter that she had finished and flown back to London before I saw the lights of Central Park. I was there and that was all that mattered. So I know what a big deal it is to be part of something with such a high profile on the world stage.
The only trouble was haveing to part with about three months salary to be in. I had to sleep on it… When I conceived the idea of having a year out and travelling the world, part of me didn’t want to just travel. I wanted to do stuff that I’d remember for the rest of my natural. Things you can tell your grandkids about. The cost of participating was more or less what I hope to have left when I get home to ease me back into normal life and not be in complete penury and dependent on loved ones for food and shelter. Fuck it. Its only money. If I survive and am still in one piece and of relatively sound mind, I can work, get a job (heaven forbid) and pick myself up again. It may mean the party ends prematurely, but what a party it will have been. If I’m home and beanless in the spring instead of the autumn then so be it. There may never be a future when time, money, place and opportunity come together to allow me to do this. In the end there was no decision to make.
I always find that agonising over big decisions is a waste of nervous energy. You have a gut feeling that can guide you. Its better to send a question to your belly rather than your head. Your guts do a fine job of sifting out what is nutritious and necessary for you from the caddle shovelled into it. Your digestive organs can do the same when it comes to coalescing a morass of confusing possibilities into a well defined answer that is good for you and only you. It’s a natural thing.
It also helps if you have been patient enough to allow the forces of circumstance to pile up against you until the point is reached where resistance is useless and there can only be one outcome. You then just have to go with the flow and allow nature to sweep you off your feet. You know when something is right because it all happens easily. There is no struggle.
So it was with the decision to enter the race and spend the money. In the end it was a no brainer… ha ha an accusation I’ve heard before… and ignored. It’s amazing how people react. I told my Aussie rellies and they were really happy for me. But the first thing you hear is… ‘Streuth, you know 11 people died in that race the other year, don’t you’. What is it about human nature. People just can’t wait to give you the bad news. Even if it is true.
The Sydney Hobart is a dangerous race, no question. The Bass Straight between the mainland and Tasmania is renowned as a wild and fickle place. Calm one minute and stormy the next. (I know a few women like that). One of the reasons people have died in the past is because its not in the Aussie nature to back down. The harder it blows the more they want to be out there. It’s a kind of national male chauvinism. The elements have a habit of having the last word in such situations. I’ll be in a mixed Aussie/Pom crew so prudence may prevail if it comes to taking it easy (she’s the cook).
After signing on the dotted line and jumping up and down with excitement (again), I was brought back to earth with a thump when I visited the local ships chandler to see about the list of gear that I would need. Yachties are a bit like plumbers. I pointed at a waterproof jacket in the shop, the only one they had, and asked how much.
‘What do you want it for’ was the reply. You have to get used to this sort of directness in Oz.
‘Sydney Hobart’, says I (aye Jim Lad)
Big intake of breath through pursed lips from Johnny Shopkeeper.
‘You don’t want that mate’. He looks me sternly in the eye (aye aye).. ‘You’re going to be cold and you’re going to be wet for five days’. I’m now beginning to think I should have saved my money for a spot of gentle rambling in New Zealand.
He then proceeded to give me a long list of all the ‘proper’ gear I would need to keep body and soul together on my journey to watery hell and back. A good grand’s worth (sterling). He let the air out of my spinnaker good and proper. Now I’m thinking I may as well go straight home after the race as I’m not going to have enough left to buy a hawaian shirt let alone visit the place.
But not to worry. Good old fate lent a hand again. A friend of the family kindly offered me the use of his gear. Which was all the best top of the range stuff recommended by my salty dog friend in the chandlers. There is no excuse now for snivelling, Ellen MacArthur like, as the Southern Ocean waves break over me in the middle of the night, while hanging my ballast over the rail.
That left a few odds and sods to find. My trainers (ex marathon) are just about to give up the ghost. I’ve gaffer taped over the holes in them but the black soles will no doubt be frowned upon by the capn. Defacing the deck with black streaks, ten lashes. They may need to be formally buried at sea with full honours. I could probably get locked up for chucking them off the Harbour Bridge. The odds of knocking out a ferry passenger would be quite slim (and not from the smell). So have picked up some cheap canvass deck shoes. Apart from thermals, woolly jumpers and hats 2 – warm and waterproof and wide and sun proof, the other bits are all boy scout stuff. I treated myself to a head torch. I found from the episode under the bus in the Outback night, that a light strapped to your head is way better than a handheld. I’ll need two hands to hold on. The best thing is a four inch knife with a glow in the dark handle. You just never know when you might be overcome with the urge to whittle in the middle of the night. I’ll just have to try and not disturb the rest of the crew!