Sailing on history

The day the America's Cup came to town…

It's not every day that one finds one's self the chance to embark on a journey aboard a piece of Australian sporting history. One such opportunity presented itself to myself and Roger Fawcet of the Port Curtis Sailing Club last week with the visitation of two Australian 12m America's Cup vessels on their voyage south to Sydney for full restoration via Mooloolaba and Brisbane.

Roger and I left Gladstone on Steak N Kidney (KA14) in the company of Australia (KA5) in good weather just after 0900, sailing down the harbour and heading out beyond the fairway buoy before following the coast down towards 1770, and tacking out to sea towards Lady Elliott Is, which was to become our last sight of land Friday night, with some frightful looking weather building up from 1770 towards Bundaberg.

After checking in with the Bundaberg VMR and being assured that the weather was travelling along the coast for the most part, we continued out to sea towards Lady Elliott Island in fairly good weather where we turned towards the Sandy Cape on the northern tip of Fraser Is, which was sighted just after sunrise Saturday morning as we sailed along the seaward side of it.

We dodged at least 2 formidable thunderstorms Saturday afternoon, south of Indian Head, but got hit by torrential rain at which point we lost sight of Australia 2 which was at least 10nm behind us and remained in our wake for the rest of the trip. We elected at that point to work back out to sea to try and avoid the worst of the storms and scuds as they seemed to be building and tracking along the coast.

As Australia was so far behind us, they couldn't evade the storms and were forced to press on through them. Following the first 1 or 2 storm systems one person was injured with a severely sprained ankle leaving them a man short, so they hove to, strapped the injured crewman up and dropped the main, before continuing on short handed which resulted in them trailing some 40nm behind us at one point.

Steak N Kidney played tag with thunderstorms all Saturday evening in building seas of 3 to 4m, so the mainsail was dropped just before dark in case of high winds associated with any thunderstorms and we were hit by torrential rain again for an hour or so close to midnight, but managed to miss the dangerous winds associated with the storm cells.

Sleeping and eating arrangements were Spartan to say the least, with most of us electing to sleep on deck, where we could, to avoid the stink of diesel and the noise generated by the constant crash of waves on the all aluminium hull that sucked body heat like an Antarctic breeze through Bass Strait! With that said, the combination of hard, cold decks, tacking and trimming the boat as well as taking turns steering through the night was not enough to dampen the spirits of the crew when after clearing a number of storm cells approximately 30nm off Fraser Island where we arguably had Australia's best view of the full Lunar eclipse in the pitch black dark of the early hours of Sunday morning.

After clearing these storms we had relatively smooth weather for the rest of the trip.

We entered Moolooaba Marina at 0830 and after tying up, made a beeline for hot showers, dry clothes and a large coffee before being dragged in for crew photos for local and Brisbane based press who were eager to hear of the boat's performance and the experience of sailing such remarkable vessels.

After a few days layover in Mooloolaba including some other media events, mentoring young and old on a family race day with the members of the Mooloolaba Yacht Club and the consumption of numerous beverages with the locals, I continued with Steak N Kidney through to Brisbane. The highlight of this leg was entering the Brisbane River where we came a beam of a large cruise ship whose patrons obviously recognised the yachts and began to chant away "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!" from the rooftop of the vessel to which we promptly offered a spirit lifting counter melody of "Oi, oi, oi!"

This single encounter demonstrates the affection that our nation's proud sailing heritage still holds in the hearts of many Australians and it is wonderful to see this adventurous spirit alive in the many junior sailing members of the PCSC today. More information on the voyages and restoration of these two vessels can be found at http://www.australian12m.com/.



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