A Southern Ocean Battering

Matt Ogg - our round the world ambassador aboard Clipper Yacht Da Nang - Vietnam gives some insight as to just how tough conditions can get onboard during Leg 4 - the Elliot Brown Timekeeper Cup.  They eventually made it safely to Sydney then bounced back with an incredible class win in race 5 taking part in the infamous Sydney-Hobart race in which 1/3rd of competitors - mainly experienced ocean racers - pulled out due to the extreme conditions.. It just goes to show how what started out as relatively inexperienced crews aboard the Clipper Yachts have become so adept not only at racing 24hrs a day, but managing their boats and equipment to avoid failure when the weather turns itself up to 10.
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Leg 4, Race 4: Albany, Australia - Sydney, Australia

This was, without question, the toughest race yet. Even at 14 days, we arrived battered and bruised. The Elliot Brown Timekeeper Cup was effectively the Southern Ocean, part two.

After an exciting downwind spinnaker run and strategic tacking battle out of the bay at Albany, the fleet lay the line for Tasmania, which we would have to round before making for Sydney. Straightforward it was not. 1000 nautical miles of near upwind racing in strong winds put us back to living on the North Face smashing into wave after wave. Crashing. Pounding. Plunging deeper south than at any point during the race.

Every foray onto the foredeck was a fight. Every headsail change - of which there were many - a battle with nature. It was unrelenting, physically and mentally. For my part, I spent a fortnight with the foredeck team getting thrown around like a rag doll whilst also battling my own demons with an infection requiring antibiotics. Exhausted. Bruised. Pushed to the limit. Lifejacket going off convinced I must be in the water after a heavy dousing. Gruelling.

We got constant high winds and the general battering we seemingly avoided the worst of in the previous leg. We got the long rollers bouncing the boat around before short, sharp waves on the shallow shelf of Bass Strait. To add to the drama, we sighted water spouts - waterborne tornadoes - but a few hundred metres away. The on-watch clearing the deck below, those of us having dinner suddenly swamped with calls to brace ourselves should the spouts cross us. A nervous tension, eyes darting throughout the galley, but we were reprieved.

As fate would have it, having rounded Tasmania and crossed the infamous Bass Strait (finding a wind hole briefly like only we seemingly know how) the wind seemed to run out. The dramatic south east coast of continental Australia offered fickle winds leaving our goal tantalisingly and frustratingly out of reach. A match race with Derry~Londonderry~Doire, our nearest on-water rival, eventuated as they tacked repeatedly to cover us. Yet our light wind experience gave us the edge to roll them giving us 9th position. A little victory in a disappointing overall race before we parked up again off Botany Bay left guessing at the exotic destinations of the myriad aeroplanes passing us by and wishing for such speed.

A Sunday afternoon arrival turned to Monday, before the small hours of Tuesday followed as we finally came alongside. More than once we had to galvanise ourselves to keep pushing. However, we were greeted and flanked by a flotilla for our skipper Wendy Tuck on her homecoming despite the lateness of the night - a fact that was simply soul warming.

I’m not sure I enjoyed it. But I did survive it. I’m still waiting for perspective to paper over the cracks. The Sydney-Hobart race offers something entirely different, but will once again place the Bass Strait in our path.

To follow the latest Leg 6, The Henri Lloyd Hobart to Whitsundays Race, click here for the Clipper Race viewer.

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