In gentle winds five sailing vessels, with a collective age of over 400 years, collected in the Derwent River, Tasmania. Crews quietly readied sails and sheets and their craft took the strain. A tack or two, to reach an upwind mark was all it took and then it got serious. As the decks came alive, sails were gathered, masts bowed and the five boats rose from the sea in a powerful surge. This was not an ordinary sail. This was a race with honours to be won.
At the first mark, the leading vessels turned within centimetres of each other as neither captain gave any quarter. Each knowing intimately, the finite details of their vessels.
As the race gathered momentum, so did the winds. 35-40 knot winds drove a two and half metre swell and curling white caps down the river. Captains and crew rose to a new levels with them.
For any who have watched first class sailing races, you will know well, the skill involved in handling a craft in high seas and strong winds. These vessels were in some cases over 100 years old and being driven to their very limits in a sublime demonstrations of maritime excellence.
In fact it was near impossible keeping pace with them in a modern day power boat. Masts pulsed, sheets strained, rigging creaked and waves crashed off bows as raw natural power met man made ingenuity and cunning
At the second turn, a windward mark, Yukon had closed the gap again on Julie Burgess to script the need for more spectacular seamanship. As both vessels threatened to land in irons, the Julie Burgess, made the mark. Yukon, was caught in the momentary lull behind the turning Julie Burgess, that would see her need to miss the mark to stay competitive.
With conditions worsening, the race was commuted to preserve the craft. Despite the declining elements, the smallest craft, Mallana, seemed to be positively enjoying the challenge, as she skipped along wave tops on the canter for home.
The decision was proven sensible when the valiant Kerrawin, lost the top of her foremast in a gust. After gathering the remnants of the shattered mast, rigging and sails, the crew stayed out to support the other vessels and cheer them home in a wonderful show of sportsmanship.
I could have watched them for hours. It was a unique privilege to witness, such stunning veterans of the sea, being tested to their very limits, by world class captains and crew. Alas all good things come to an end.
The Ketch Review, was a part of the MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2015, held in Tasmania, Australia. A festival that has deservedly earned International accolades. My thanks to the organisers of this festival and the Captains and crew, for their unforgettable demonstrations of seamanship and the chance to witness a unique and magical spectacle.
Vessels in the Ketch Reveiew, were the Julie Burgess (winner), Yukon, Mallana, Kerrawin (retired mast broken) and Rhona H.
Lead Image: Yukon (left) gathers pace as she chases down Julie Burgess in the high seas. She would be within inches at the turn.
© Robert Oates | BALLANTYNE Photography Travel and Events Photography and Editorials
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