The 75 yachts competing in the 57th CYCA Sydney Hobart Yacht Race have completed the most stringent-ever safety preparations in the history of the 630 nautical mile ocean classic.
When they set sail tomorrow, Boxing Day, 26 December, at 13:00 the 800-plus crew members will be the most experienced and best prepared since the race first began in 1945.
In the wake of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's own Review and the Coronial Enquiry into the tragic Sydney Hobart Race of 1998 when six yachtsmen died at sea, requirements for yacht and personal safety equipment and crew experience have been incrementally upgraded for each subsequent race.
The Sydney Hobart Race is an International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Category 1 ocean racing safety standard event, plus additional safety rules from the Australian Yachting Federation (AYF), and is one of only two annual ocean races sailed under this category in Australia, the other being the Gosford to Lord Howe Island Race.
The eight Volvo Ocean 60s competing in the Sydney Hobart as part of the Volvo Ocean Race around the world, are sailing under an even higher standard ISAF Category 0, but will also have had to meet some additional safety factors for the race to Hobart.
Over the past four weeks, the CYCA special regulations equipment audit team, previously called safety inspectors, under Jon Meyer, have carried out Category 1 inspections on every yacht based at the CYCA as well as spot checks on all interstate or overseas yachts, as well as those from other clubs which have had the full inspections done at their own clubs.
"We completed our last inspections on Sunday, and only two boats have to meet minor upgrades by this evening," Meyer said yesterday. "Of course, each yacht must finally report to the starting boat on Boxing Day with their storm jibs and storm tri-sails to meet the rules."
Among those sailing south will be Meyer himself, who will be sailing to Hobart aboard Matt Allen's Lyons 62, Valtair, in what will be his 18th Sydney Hobart. His wife, Lea, will be sailing her 10th race aboard Ashley Reed and Michael Spies' Beneteau 40.7, Shipping Central.
This year, with the publishing of a new AYF "blue book", yacht owners have found quite a number of additional safety equipment requirements to those introduced for the previous two races.
These have included personal EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) for each crew member, along with personal strobe lights and additional safety harness tethers, while each yacht has had to replace old-style batteries with gel batteries or sealed batteries.
Jon Meyer also drew the attention of the yachting authorities to a potential problem with inflatable life jacket/harness combinations which saw one unit deflate during the AYF Safety at Sea exercises, prompting a warning letter from the President of the Yachting Association of NSW, David Kellet. In the letter, Kellett said: "If this had happened in an emergency situation, the result could have been fatal."
Meyer said there had been one or two other incidents with inflatable life jackets reported and at yesterday's Skippers' Briefing at the CYCA, the attention of all competitors was drawn to the YANSW letter on the notice board at the CYCA.
AYF Safety at Sea Exercises
One of the major safety requirements for crew members this year has been that at least 30% of the crew members of each yacht must have taken part in the Australian Yachting Federation Safety at Sea course which includes a four hour practical life raft exercise with severe conditions simulated in the Qantas pool at Mascot. Overseas competitors have completed similar exercises in their own countries.
The participants have included many ocean racing veterans, such as 73-year-old Syd Fischer will be sailing his 33rd Sydney Hobart Race skippering his Farr 50, Ragamuffin, and Bill Ratcliff who will be sailing in his 36th Sydney Hobart.
"It was well worthwhile doing the life raft exercise; we learned a lot as they did their best to drown us," commented Fischer after completing the course. "You can never stop learning in ocean yacht racing," he added.
The CYCA requires that each yacht in the Sydney Hobart Race must hold a valid IMS rating certificate to be eligible for the event, whether they race under the IMS, IRC or PHS handicap category, to establish the yacht's stability.
The IMS measurement system includes an physical inclination test which, along with other measurements, provides each yacht with a stability factor which must meet the race requirement.
This safety requirement received wider coverage when the 83-footer Australian Skandia Wild Thing had to undergo a re-measurement after changing her keel last week when the yacht returned by ship from Europe.
Each yacht must also have taken part in a 150 nautical mile ocean race within six months of the Sydney Hobart Race or must complete a 200 nautical offshore passage. One of the newest boats in the fleet, Hollywood Boulevard, had to miss the final races of the British Trophy Regatta to sail out to sea to complete the offshore passage.
Other safety requirements
Following the release of the Coronial Enquiry last December, the CYCA took immediate action to require the replacement of certain types of liferafts and the replacement of all "Mae West" style life jackets with newly approved jackets.
Yachts also had to upgrade their main EPIRB unit to a 406 mHz unit which allows even more accurate positioning of a yacht in distress and positive identification of a boat sending a distress signal.
Another positive safety rule introduced for last year's race requires each boat to report by radio when they reach latitude 37 degrees 15 degrees South (Green Cape on the South Coast of NSW just north of Bass Strait) and make a declaration confirming their time of passing as well as the following:
· The HF Radio is operational
· Liferaft(s) are on board
· Engine and batteries are operational
· Boat and crew are in a satisfactory condition to continue
· The skipper has comprehensively considered the most current weather forecast and that the boat and crew are fully prepared for the conditions forecast.
Boats, which are not recorded as having met these reporting requirements, shall be disqualified without a protest hearing.
The Radio Relay Vessel for this year's Sydney Hobart is the Startrack Express Eclipse, a 106-foot Super Yacht with the ACS Radio Relay team headed by David Kellett,
Three position reports ("skeds") with the fleet will be held during the 57th CYCA Sydney Hobart Race, except on Boxing Day when only one will be held:
26 December 2005 hours
27-31 December 0405 hours 1305 hours 2105 hours
1-3 January 0405 hours 1305 hours 2105 hours
Official radio frequencies are: 6227 kHz and 4483 kHz
In addition, boats shall be capable of transmitting/receiving, as a minimum on VHF International Channels 16, 72, 73, 80 and 81.
All yachts must all carry a handheld, waterproof VHF radio as well as fixed HF and VHF transmitters.
Chairman of the Race Committee, Rear Admiral Chris Oxenbould RAN(ret) again stressed the skipper's briefing on 23 December: "The responsibility for a boat's decision to participate in a race or continue racing is her's alone."