Matt Ogg - our onboard ambassador aboard 'Da Nang - Vietnam' has such a captivating way of describing his experiences that no matter how hard we try and cut his posts down, we always end up publishing the whole lot!.. Here's are his onboard accounts of Races 5 and 6.
Race 5: Sydney, Australia - Hobart, Australia
Australia’s Bluewater Classic, a Boxing Day tradition, and a jewel in the crown of the Clipper Race. The Sydney-Hobart Race. As the only Australian skippered boat in the fleet there were eyes on us and pressure to perform but our results so far did not suggest what would come in the proceeding four days. 11th, 6th, 8th, 9th.
The start line was nothing short of chaos, with 108 boats across three start lines jostling for position. Clipper 70s within metres of us all mixed in with various designs on the second start line. At least two boats collided before we had even departed forcing them to retire. The super-maxis flying along ahead of us in all their majesty. We got away cleanly, the first to do so, with several other yachts creating a barrier between us and the fleet as we tacked our way up Sydney Harbour. It was a great feeling after laying our mark to lead the fleet out of the Heads.
Time for the spinnaker, we launched the heavyweight spinnaker - which we believed we could hold for the longest time - to begin our run south before an expected storm front crashed through the fleet. The horizon popped with kites of all colours in a spectacular display of sail. Maserati zooming by at over 20 knots (double our speed) after a problem at the start showing us how the pros do it.
The Southerly Buster appeared ominously ahead and the kite came down with moments to spare. Bang. An incredible fight through the night, leaving us in the lead as the most southerly Clipper 70 boat, and undamaged. The famous Wild Oats XI retired, Perpetual Loyal retired, countless others of all shape and size… retired. Not Da Nang-Viet Nam however, it was game on.
The second Bass Strait crossing beckoned, and this time came the light winds. The infamous stretch of water turned to glassy pond as we drifted, hoping the fleet behind were equally suffering the drought of wind. Every radio schedule a nervous wait to see if our lead remained. The dramatic Tasmanian coast appearing to starboard, chalking off each mile. Challenging technical sailing, windseeker up and down, Yankee 1 up and down. The turn. One boat parked up showing us a line not to take before fresh breeze took hold in Storm Bay. Glorious, steady breeze right into the Derwent, back to the spinnaker at a rapid 13 knots or more; surely no-one could catch us now? The crew nervously thinking about what could be, hoping we could just bring it home. Every clean gybe cheered by the crew, hearts racing, one step closer to the finish. Could we?
Victory. Division Winners in the Sydney-Hobart, billed as the toughest since 2004. 22nd in line honours. An incredible welcome and indescribable high. Something no-one can ever take away from us. The celebrations were wild, and this ragtag crew had their fairytale ending. We have our champagne moment.
Race 6: Hobart, Australia - Airlie Beach, Australia
From the highs of Sydney-Hobart, the question we were asking ourselves was could we carry momentum into the next race or would we suffer from a victory hangover. Having a Tasmanian local on board certainly helped, as our line took us straight out the Derwent back into the lead as the fleet fought its way back towards the Bass Straight for our third and final crossing, finding different conditions once again.
Rain. So much rain. Watch after watch the rain came down as we waited for the wind to do us a favour. On the fifth night, a tactical error threw us out of the podium positions, as we tumbled down the rankings. We worked hard to make up the deficit, finding ourselves in fifth chasing Derry-Londonderry-Doire, but defending challenges from IchorCoal and Unicef behind. It looked as though it would finish that way as conditions and routing offered little margin for big gains.
The sun came out north of Newcastle and the wind was strong and stable. The medium weight spinnaker was hoisted for four days straight, day and night. Two grinders working hard with trimmer and helm to eke out every last half knot. Out came the shorts for the first time in months as the temperature rose. Grinding hard, trimming relentlessly in the baking heat. Shaving not hours but days off of our expected arrival time - a rarity in the campaign thus far.
As we approached the Whitsundays however, the wind became light and fickle once more, with spinnakers down for the final navigation through the myriad islands. Derry~Derry~Londonderry~Doire found itself caught out and we clawed them back them in the final hours. In the night we fought each other, with the windseeker and Yankee 1, keeping our torches off so as not to give away our sail plan. Inching our way firstly alongside, before creeping by into an unassailable lead, to steal fourth place from their clutches. Not for the first time, our light wind credentials were on display.
We leave Australia at the halfway stage in sixth overall, with 20,000nm behind us. Amateurs maybe but morale is on the up and our home port beckons ahead of us. I will miss Australia - it has been good for us, but now we begin the inbound journey… the long journey home.