Cruiser Turns Racer to set a Record and Carry a Message
What do climate change and a yacht race have in common? Plenty.
I am a cruiser, ‘between-boats’ at the moment building a house with my husband Noel. But I am still buried in all things boating, which includes training, writing, publishing, speaking, and now racing! My ‘freedom-fix’ is found by hopping onto friends’ boats. It’s just as exciting as setting sail with my own. But, recently, when I was asked to race I hesitated.
by Jackie Parry
The Melbourne to Hobart Westcoaster is considered, by some, to be the most challenging race in Australia. Four hundred and thirty-five nautical miles of the fickle Bass Straight, the lee shore of Tasmania’s west coast, and the mighty Southern Ocean.
With much to consider, the excitement and purpose of the event was too much to ignore, if it excites me and scares me then I should be doing it!
And it was my FIRST ever ocean race. There are many reasons why I agreed, a great co-skipper, a tough boat, but also the message we were carrying.
Record Breaking and The Message
It’s not all about women facing challenges and setting records, Lisa’s boat, Climate Action Now, was born as a means to spread the climate message, to empower communities to become personally involved and give individuals a voice on how we can support a positive climate future.
Climate Action Now carries hundreds of Post-it notes on her hull via a digital vinyl wrap. Written on these notes are messages such as ‘I ride to work for climate action now’, or ‘I recycle for climate action now’. Showcasing a simple sharing of ideas to reduce emissions in everyday life.
The colourful boat has carried Lisa, solo, around Antarctica and Australia. She hopes to carry this same message on her proposed second record-breaking trip around Antarctica later this year.
Everyone is invited to take part, click here to send your message:
It’s a unique symbolic gesture, across the oceans, indicating your strong support towards CLIMATE ACTION NOW and to inspire others to take action. How many notes can we collect for maximum impact and conversation?
So, with messages of hope and to inspire women to face challenges, we made the boat and our bodies ready, and here’s what happened:
My familiarisation took place on the sail from Sydney to Melbourne. There’s little comfort on a racing boat, a new concept to me and my middle-aged body. I quickly learned that I was not boat-fit. I’m reasonably fit for someone galloping towards fifty, but after a gap of several years between voyages, I tripped and stumbled for a few days with growing frustration.
The forty knot headwinds tested my ability and endurance, it was exhilarating. Wilsons Promontory seemed to accompany us for a long time as we tacked through the howling gusts. But the team was gelling, and I was becoming slightly more comfortable with the set up.
Forty was a popular number – as there are no less than forty lines in the cockpit all demanding attention at different times. After a vexing few days grappling with the colourful spaghetti, I spent a night learning, adjusting, fiddling, practicing, and things improved much to everyone’s relief!
Pre-Race Passage Planning
Passage Planning on paper charts filled Christmas day. A boat and its crew can be busy especially at crucial times, during racing that intensifies.
Lisa and I have over a hundred thousand international miles between us, plus commercial qualifications, and teaching experience. But we don’t cut corners. Mother Nature dancing with the Southern Pacific Ocean could create a boisterous Tango – we plan for all contingencies.
We noted the route, obstacles, safe (emergency) ports – their entrances, where we could/could not pull into, reefs, acceleration zones, potential dangers, tides, distances, etc.
For weather, we both monitored Windyty. I checked BOM often too. While sailing around the world synoptic charts was our (with hubby) choice of weather I like to study the overall picture, searching for isobar kinks that can dish out a beating. For the race, favourable weather was forecast all the way, unless we were delayed. A bulging low was working its way east towards Tasmania.
Interviews filled the morning. After setting previous records Lisa is popular with the media, and we were about to set our own. Time ran out, we must make way to the start line.
Lisa maneuvered her boat with great skill. We tacked, we watched, we waited, and smiled and waved at all the boats vying for the best start. It was a thrill!
I was happy to take care of the sails while Lisa handled her boat. The sun shone, the breeze was steady – we continued to watch the weather and adjust our plan as we went. We’d discussed tactics, MOB, communication, sleep, safety.
The fleet stretched their bows for the line and pointed towards Bass Strait, slicing through the water with white waves flowing. Then we all stopped.
The Melbourne to Devonport racers were farther east with good wind. So, we made a tactical decision to make easting to see if we could find us some of that wind!
Still becalmed, I became a little twitchy, just how fast is that low approaching?
On those becalmed days when cruising with my husband we fired up the engine. Our theory involved the flogging sails costing more due to damage in the long run than the diesel we’d use. Motor sailing is okay, everything smooths out. No scary waves, squalls or big winds. Time to read and watch dolphins.
When racing it is a different story, with constant adjustment of the sails and hand steering. Minute concentration is fine – for a few minutes – then suddenly the mind wanders, so does the boat. No wind is hard work!
Still not much wind. Although when Lisa called me from my bunk, as a fishing boat was circling us, it did create some excitement.
We were drifting, sometimes backwards! Lisa called up the vessel and he laughed, ‘Don’t worry we’ll keep out of your way.’ She explained that that we were racing and therefore couldn’t use the engine. We thought he understood until he laid out fishing pots ALL AROUND the boat, leaving us armed with boat hooks to push them away should we drift upon them.
It rained. The rain accompanied a storm. Lightning cracked and thunder rumbled which took me back to the Nicobars in Thailand when Noel and I sat in our open cockpit all night watching the lightning hit the water around us (Lightning Storm at The Nicobars https://sistershiptraining.com/cruising-dreams-into-reality/podcasts/). Lisa hand steered through most of it as we surfed down waves pushed along by forty knots of wind. It was too exciting (and fast) for Lisa to give up the helm. Later, still in strong winds, it was my watch. I felt like I was flying: Black night, white bow wave, surfing down waves. With not one ounce of fear, I had too much faith in the boat, Lisa, and myself. What a glorious gift!
We are now accompanied by bolshie seas but with good wind to sail – finally! The wind calms before the sea does. Just like the delay between the barometer rising and the conditions calming. The Acceleration Zones on the SW tip of Tasmania forced us to reef the mainsail and then we gratefully turned north towards the Derwent. Dolphins leapt across our bow and enormous albatross glided past our stern.
A day later than planned we sailed up the Derwent River into Hobart. With tiredness laying heavy on our muscles the gusty 20-30 knot headwind forced us to tack every few minutes. It’s a big boat, she’s amazing although not easy to manage. My muscles ached, but as the start line drew nearer it gave us the energy to keep going.
Event planning is much like passage planning and due to the 50 knot winds around the Acceleration Zones the organisers delayed the presentation by one day. We made it. Through injury and storm two other boats had retired.
Making History but Sending a message
We made history. We are the first double-handed all female crew to complete the Melbourne to Hobart Race. With a small fleet it still didn’t make the race any easier or the fact that just two of us battled every condition imaginable and made it safely into port with barely a bruise each.
I am proud of my achievements in life and this is another to add to the list. In addition, I felt I made a difference, carrying the messages and becoming part of Lisa’s campaign. It’s only a start, my contribution was small, but if we each do something small… it creates something big… from little things, big things grow.
Here are my top five actions for Climate Action Now – what are yours?
• Turning lights off when I leave a room
• Using a keep-cup
• Growing fruit and vegetables
• Keeping car journeys to a minimum
Send your actions to Lisa – ready for her next wrap.
Together we CAN make a difference: Climate Action Now!
Next – weather – why it will never be perfect and it is our responsibility to interpret, adjust, and prepare.
Climate Action Now was one of only four vessels to complete the race, placing Jackie and Lisa well into the record books! Celebrations were put on hold as Jackie was immediately thrust straight into saving her home and much-loved horses within the bush fire crises:
1st - Division 123 DH
2nd - Division 123 IRC
3rd - Division 123 PHS
4th – Line honours
Commercial Skipper/Professional Mariner, ex-Marine Rescue Skipper, previous TAFE Maritime Teacher and current Instructor of Professional Level Courses privately (Navigation/E-Charts/Passage Planning/Weather/Intro into Boating). Cert 4 Trainer, Recreational Sailor (ocean sailing around the planet, inland waterways, sailboats and motorboats), Author of Practical Maritime Books/Pilot Books/Memoirs/Articles, Speaker at Nautical and Book Events.
Australian adventurer, keynote speaker, and multi-world record holding sailor