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Knockdown: The Harrowing True Account of a Yacht Race Turned Deadly

af Martin Dugard

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431474,659 (3.5)Ingen
Martin Duggard takes the reader down 725 miles of Australia's eastern coast, and across the Bass Strait as he recreates the voyages of several ill-fated crews. Through interviews he chronicles the saga of the windswept sailors whose skill and daring were futile against the waves and winds.

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There would appear to be numerous yacht races around the world, all vying for the title of the “most dangerous,” “worst seas,” “most deadly weather,” etc., etc. The criteria seem to be the most number of sailors killed. Many of these races are beginning to attract the unskilled, much like climbing Mt. Everest is now a way “to find oneself” – personally, I can always be found in my reading chair, so locating myself has never been a problem – and naturally, many of these people rarely have the fortitude and exceptional skill to reach their goal – especially when Mother Nature (notice the feminine designation) decides to get ugly.
Hence the sailing disasters of Fastnet and now Sydney-Hobart, billed again as the “most treacherous yacht racing course in the world” – a claim I would view with some skepticism given the one casualty over the years until 1966 after decades of racing from Sydney across the Bass Strait to Tasmania – and he died of a heart attack.
This is not to say that the Bass Strait doesn’t have its share of nasty weather. It’s known as a “black hole,” where numerous weather systems, currents, and land formations create wicked wave formations and generally uncomfortable conditions. The Cape of Good Hope is one such area, the Bass Strait another. The Roaring Forties wind belt blows down here, a wind with the force of myth, and Argentine jet pilots have claimed to have been blown backwards by these winds – they may have been flying balsa wood aircraft for all we know, however.
1998 was the year of the BIG storm, and it hit as boats were entering the Bass Strait. This was no ordinary storm either. Much as that described in Sebastian Junger’s wonderful book, The Perfect Storm, this hurricane resulted from the confluence of three very strong weather systems. The result was huge waves of unpredictable direction generated by winds up to 100 mph. The small boats, some as short as thirty-odd feet, really got their money’s worth. The Sydney-Hobart race is unusual in that it has boats of different sizes, and the winner is determined by a sophisticated handicap system that is related to size of the boat. There are also few limitations on who can enter, so professionals are mixed with sailors of lesser skill. The potential is therefore much greater for disaster.
The forecasts were there and many boats, skippered by the smarter captains, turned back to Sydney. Others continued on for a variety of reasons. Many were to regret that decision. They were sailing into a full-fledged hurricane. Waves are capricious. Even though the wind may have died down, waves can generate their own momentum once on a roll, so to speak. Any increase in wind will definitely build them up. “As wind increases, waves increase, too, but at an exponential rate. For every mile per hour wind increases, a wave’s size increases by the power of four. So if the wind suddenly jumps from forty knots to one hundred, waves leap to astronomical heights.” That’s what happened in the Bass Strait. Waves were measured at one hundred thirty-five feet. As the survivor of one battered and destroyed boat said, it was like “sitting on the top of your car in a downpour while racing down the highway at one hundred miles per hour” — except, of course, that the car would remain flat.
There were so many emergency “Mayday” calls that the Australian Search and Rescue units, the best in the world, ran out of helicopters. What’s astonishing is that loss of life was as low as it was — six people died. Many were rescued at the last minute. Many swore they would never race again, although, ironically, the field is expected to grow, precisely because the danger will make the race more attractive. Plus ca change …. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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Martin Duggard takes the reader down 725 miles of Australia's eastern coast, and across the Bass Strait as he recreates the voyages of several ill-fated crews. Through interviews he chronicles the saga of the windswept sailors whose skill and daring were futile against the waves and winds.

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