Preparing successfully to compete in the biggest offshore races requires putting your attention to every detail. When sailing the Transpac, Sydney to Hobart (or a similar race that heads well offshore such as the Newport Bermuda Race), you’ll need to win a different sort of race after crossing the finish line—the delivery back to your home port.
In this second race, winning has a simpler definition: your goal is to arrive safely at your destination without damage to your boat or crew.
You might think that without a race clock running and with the competitive pressure off, but for example, a return trip from Hobart would be much easier. In fact, it’s often not the case, and most teams will need to plan the trip, especially if its covering 630 nautical miles back to Sydney with just as much care as the race itself.
After the 2015 edition of the Sydney Hobart, I was delivering a 40-footer home. We had a great crew with a good mix of experience and a couple of people doing their first long passage. We had ideal conditions up to Flinders but crossing the Strait got hit by a sudden southwest change which came through earlier than forecast. We were prepared well so did not have any issues, but it reinforced to me how much better prepared you need to be with a less experienced and smaller crew. With our racing crew, we would have waited until we could see the shift coming before reefing, etc., but with my smaller team we had the reefs in an hour early, so all we had left to do when it hit was make the coffee!
In regards to the Hobart race, which I’ve sailed ten times and made the delivery back nearly as often, there are several factors that can make the trip difficult and there are important steps to take in preparation.
The delivery home is the same length as the race itself and for some it’s even farther. Covering more than 600 nautical miles will take most boats three to four days under way, just like the race, and in that time there’s a good chance that an intense weather system will blow through. Work with an external weather expert to assist with routing options. There is a lot of weather information provided for the race; make sure you are just as prepared for heading home.
Some of your crew will be less experienced during the return trip, and it’s critical that you have a good mix of experience as well, to provide balance. If you do, the delivery is a great opportunity for newer crew to gain offshore experience while you and other more experienced crew teach best practices without a race on the line.
You’ll also be sailing with fewer crew aboard, usually about half the normal complement for a race, and this has advantages, too. There’s more space for all, and everyone can rotate through the positions, including having time on the helm. But make sure you have enough experienced crew aboard—I’d recommend at least four on the average 40-foot boat. Also, don’t forget you will need to stay ahead of shifts in the weather by reducing sail early so your crew can handle what’s coming next.
Roles and watches
The size of the boat, length of delivery, number of people onboard, and the experience of the sailors will dictate the watch system you choose. Regardless of the system, as with a racing team, it’s important to have watch captains and a skipper who makes the final decisions. It’s also always good to share the cooking duties onboard.
Encourage everyone onboard to Sailing Safety and Sea Survival course and earned their certificates in advance. Then plan a full safety brief and MOB practice for all crew before leaving land. This includes being sure all crew onboard know the locations of all safety gear and how to operate each item. No matter how much experience a crew member has, providing orientation to your boat and running a drill together can make all the difference in the event of a real emergency.
Don’t forget to inspect your delivery sails ahead of time. Before the race even starts, have your sailmaker check your sails. This will ensure, first of all, that you have the inventory of sails you need and that the sails will be in good condition. North Sails global network offers loft locations that can help to meet you when you arrive back to shore from an offshore sprint or back to your homeport from a delivery.
Engine and fuel
Carry out an engine check prior to heading home on the delivery, and take along some engine spares. That includes spare fuel filters, impellers, belts, and engine oil, and double check that you have the correct size spanners onboard to make any repairs that might be needed on the go. Also work out how much diesel fuel your boat uses per nautical mile and plan accordingly. It’s always good to take a little extra rather than not enough.
When the race is over, be sure to inventory and inspect all safety gear, as some members of your race crew get ready to depart. Account for every piece of gear and replace batteries that have run down during the race. Then check all the gear again before leaving the dock for the delivery and be sure all delivery crew are familiar with its location and operation.
Ensure personal EPIRBS have been registered in the new crew members names.
Schedule & Stop-overs
Finally, don’t rush it. Allow enough time in your schedule to stay in port if the weather is not ideal, especially if your crew is less experienced. And once underway, stay under reduced sail in breezy conditions to help the crew stay rested. I like to make a voyage plan that includes a list of potential places we can seek shelter along the way if required and study the chart of those areas prior to leaving.
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