Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jessica Watson’s Progress on the Home Stretch.

Well news hit the headlines only a few hours ago here in Australia that Jesse Watson’s “rival” (apparently they don’t like to view each other as rivals) Abby Sunderland is now out of contention as far as the “unassisted” circumnavigation is concerned. Sunderland announced her decision to head for Cape Town for autopilot repairs with this blog entry :

I have some big news today. It's not necessarily good news, but the way I look at it, it's not bad either. I am going to be pulling into Cape Town for repairs thus ending my non-stop attempt. My whole team and I have been discussing whether or not I need to stop ever since my main auto pilot died. It's one thing to sail across an ocean with one well-working auto pilot, it's another to keep going with one that is not at all reliable.

It would be foolish and irresponsible for me to keep going with my equipment not working well. I'm about 10-14 days from Cape Town right now and though my auto pilot is working for now, we're all holding our breath and hoping it will last.

Now that’s what I call a sensible and mature skipper.

However it’s not yet over for Jesse Watson, as she approaches the notorious Bass Strait , also know as the Bass Strait Triangle (1)

Approximately 240 km wide at its narrowest point and generally around 50 metres deep, it contains many islands, with King Island and Flinders Island home to substantial human settlements.

Like the rest of the waters surrounding Tasmania, and particularly because of its limited depth, it is notoriously rough, with many ships lost there during the 19th century. A lighthouse was erected on Deal Island in 1848 to assist ships in the eastern part of the Straits, but there were no guides to the western entrance until the Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse was completed in 1859, followed by another at Cape Wickham at the northern end of King Island in 1861.

Strong currents between the Antarctic-driven southeast portions of the Indian Ocean and the Tasman Sea's Pacific Ocean waters provide a strait of powerful, wild storm waves. To illustrate its wild strength, Bass Strait is both twice as wide and twice as rough as the English Channel. The shipwrecks on the Tasmanian and Victorian coastlines number in the hundreds, although stronger metal ships and modern marine navigation have dropped the danger sharply.

Many vessels, some quite large, have disappeared without trace, or left scant evidence of their passing. Despite myths and legends of piracy, wrecking and alleged supernatural phenomena akin to those of the Bermuda Triangle, such disappearances can be invariably ascribed to treacherous combinations of wind and sea conditions, and the numerous semi-submerged rocks and reefs within the Straits.

You’d think after six knockdowns, including a 180 degree knockdown in the Southern Atlantic, that there’d be some relief, but Jesse has always realised that the home stretch was going to be the toughest of all. Even after Bass Strait (whether she goes inside or under) it’s unlikely to be smooth sailing, with weather forecasts not looking the best. I certainly recall the 1998 Sydney-Hobart race tragedy:

The 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race was marred by tragedy when, during an exceptionally strong storm (which had similar strength winds to a lower-category hurricane), five boats sank and six people died. Of the 115 boats that started, only 44 made it to Hobart. As a result, the crew eligibility rules were tightened, requiring a higher minimum age and experience. G. Bruce Knecht wrote a book about this race called "The Proving Ground". A coronial enquiry into the race was critical of both the race management at the time and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Many of these yachts were maxis that reach up to 30 metres (100 feet) in length and multi-crewed, compared to Ella’s Pink Lady, which is only 10.23 metres (33.56 feet), and here is a photo of Jessica’s “crew”:

Pic: The crew were starting to smell a bit musty, so the skipper sent them outside for a bit of sunshine and fresh air!

Despite her always obvious sense of humour, Jessica has mentioned “pretending to be brave”, or putting on a brave face, and Abby Sunderland was quite frank in a recent blog entry:

I know that some people will look on my trip as a failure because of this, and there really isn't anything that I can do about that. When you're surrounded by critics it can be hard to remember your own goals and expectations, you start to judge yourself by what other people are saying.

This is the experience of a life time. It's hard and sometimes down right terrifying, but I love it out here.

My hat goes off to both of them.


1. According to one report: "This leaves Australian Jessica Watson with no competition. Make that: No competition except for the Southern Ocean. Watson is reporting another knockdown in the biggest seas she's witnessed yet, as she sails south of Australia, on the home stretch of her journey. She's quickly approaching the Australian state of Victoria now, and by her course, it looks as if she plans on taking Bass Straight and going inside Tasmania, rather than dipping below the South East Cape as her route predicted. No doubt a prudent decision, as that big of a risk that close to her finish could prove disastrous."

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