You, Too, Could Be Sailing in the Sydney Hobart

Sailing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race might seem like an impossible dream to novices. It’s not. It’s a dangerous event for experienced sailors, but rookies who want the adventure and who are willing to undergo the training can buy their way onto a boat.

Worldwide, there are distance races free of crew-experience requirements, but today’s Sydney Hobart was forged in 1998, when a storm killed six people and sank five boats. The standards for participation are now considered the most rigorous anywhere. What you need to know is this: There are people eager to welcome you into the game. Some of them want your money. Others just want to share the sport they love. If you want in, you can get there.

“I have models of boats in my office,” said Dr. Raymond Schwartz, a Sydney neurologist, who was a harbor, not open-water, sailor. “Guys would come in and remark that I must like sailing. I would say yes. Then they’d ask if I’d ever done a Hobart. I’d say no. Their eyes would glaze over, and they’d change the topic. Apparently, I wasn’t a real sailor.”

Dr. Schwartz become “a real sailor” in the 2019 race with his two sons on the Eve, a ketch-rigged Swan 65 with a crew that trains aspiring ocean sailors for a fee. When three friends joined, the skipper capped the nonprofessional crew at that, and Eve became their boat for the race. With a group discount, the fee was 48,000 Australian dollars, or about $34,000.

Eve is owned by Steve Capell, a lifetime sailor who bought the boat to sail it around the world and who manages it as a business, Swanning Around. For this year’s Hobart race, Capell offered nine positions to crew members who would pay, alongside seven professionals. “We’re all looking after each other out there,” he said.

Anyone who doesn’t measure up in Eve’sregimen of skills training, safety training and team-fitness evaluation is not aboardfor the race, and no amount of waving money in Capell’s face will change that. But most candidates pass muster, and it’s not all about the money.

Paying-crew positions partly offset the cost of keeping a big yacht ocean ready, but along with the revenue comes the satisfaction of watching people grow.

“Few people recognize at the time how they’re developing as a team,” said Benjamin Roulant, the skipper of Eve. “By the end, after outdoing themselves and pushing each other out of the comfort zone, they’ve formed bonds, and those bonds endure.”

Maintenance work is done on a yacht at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, which organizes the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.Credit…David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On the fully amateur side, that dimension is dear to Ted Tooher, who is known around the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, which organizes the race, for welcoming qualified first-time Hobart racers aboard his 40-foot Chancellor and for helping others develop the skills that might eventually make them qualified.

“I get a kick out of watching people sail into Hobart with tears in their eyes,” he said. “They’ve achieved something. Maybe the race was a bucket-list item, and for some people it strikes even deeper chords.”

Being female might be an advantage to landing a position, Tooher said. “As a teacher and project manager, and as a skipper, I find that mixed-gender teams work best. The language is cleaner, and there is a flow of positive attitude and respect.”

One woman who is racing in her first Hobart race on Sunday is Greta Quealy, a website editor who is stepping beyond her old habit of “going out to South Head above the harbor to catch the view of the fleet setting off.”

Quealy was an accomplished sailor, so when she approached the yacht club’s sailing concierge, which matches people, even novices, with boats, she was connected to Les Goodridge, skipper of the 50-foot Wax Lyrical. Newcomers are generally introduced to boat owners for the more casual races of the off season, giving seasoned sailors and novices an opportunity to prove themselves and develop. Goodridge tested Quealy in short races, liked what he saw, and kept her on for the Sydney Hobart.

“The introduction between a prospective crew member and a boat owner might be all it takes to build a lasting relationship,” said Noel Cornish, the commodore of the yacht club. “Many crew members have gone on to progress to offshore racing.”

Looking further into commercial products, there is Flying Fish Sailing, a Sydney-based sailing and adventure company that can shape up a beginner and build the experience to qualify for a Sydney Hobart crew. The company provides berths aboard its 55-foot Arctos, a veteran of 13 Hobart races, including two wins in its division.

Flying Fish offers a fuller curriculum than Eve, which plans to soon leave Australia to circle the globe, taking paying crew through ocean crossings and the Northwest Passage.

There can be more to the training than racing. For Dean Jagger, who trained on Eve but never raced, time on the water once meant fishing from a small boat. A crossing aboard Eve, from Australia to New Zealand, galvanized him. Now he explores the coastline of New Zealand on a boat of his own.

For Kate Troup, the normal path to a Sydney Hobart berth would have meant working hard to become an experienced offshore sailor “committed to a lot of racing beforehand, and I was never going to do it,” she said. “Then I learned that Eve is racing this year, and I could bypass most of that effort and sail on that very safe boat that will be comfortable, or as close to comfortable as it comes on the ocean.” She is sailing aboard Eve in Sunday’s race.

Dr. Schwartz and company had a lot to learn before the 2019 race. They did the requisite man-overboard drills, life-raft training, 1,000-offshore miles and the 24-hour overnight passage within six months of the race. They ate salt spray practicing in bad weather, then in the race had a relatively easy trip down the coast. They passed towering rock spires and crossed the exposed waters of Bass Strait to a morning finish in wisps of wind.

Before the race, Dr. Schwartz had asked to steer Eve across the finish line, but the thrill was more than he had imagined, even though Eve finished last in its division.

“There were people everywhere,” he said. “Crowds were cheering. Our families were waving welcome banners. It was loud. It was emotional.”

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