Master and commander
Calm waters to capsizing – it's all part of life for a sailor. Ragamuffin crew member Jack Macartney shares some tales from the Sydney to Hobart race.
Like many of the sailors who race on the picturesque Sydney Harbour, Jack Macartney grew up on the water. He was a boy destined for the ocean, with his father Bill a stalwart supporter of the sailing fraternity after founding the famous Grand Prix sailing 18 ft skiffs in the ‘90s.
From the age of just eight Jack was learning how to sail, with a 25-year career that followed seeing him compete in some of the world’s most challenging ocean races. Nothing, however, could have prepared him for this year’s Sydney to Hobart, which had some of the toughest conditions in at least a decade.
Jack was part of the 20-man crew aboard the mighty 100-foot Ragamuffin, which fought back from a serious accident on the first night to place second across the line behind American superstars Comanche.
Team Ragamuffin is owned by 88-year-old Syd Fischer OBE, who is set to race again in 2016 in what will be his 48th Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
We sat down with Jack to get a sailor’s scoop of this year’s epic event.
"For me, the harder it gets the more exciting the adventure, and the more you find out about yourself and your team."
Describe the lead up to the Sydney to Hobart 2015 Race.
We trained every day in the week leading up to Christmas. This is pretty normal for the team, as there is always plenty to do and things take longer than most boats as the sails and gear are so big. The biggest spinnaker weighs 260 kg plus, so it takes the full team to move it when needed.
What was the scariest moment of the race?
The scariest moment was without doubt capsizing the yacht on the first night. When the southerly front arrived it came a little faster than what we expected, which caught us off guard. A series of events lead to us lying on our side with the mast completely in the water, sails up and the chanting keel (and 6 tonnes of water ballast) stuck on the leeward side.
So effectively we were stuck on our side in 40-plus knots of wind, torrential rain, pitch black and with the real potential of losing crew over the side. I was standing on the leeward side up to my chest in water, holding onto the mainsheet right beside the skipper – who was over the life lines, hanging on to the steering wheel up to his neck in water.
It was a seriously life threatening situation and one I was glad to get through with the team – a galvanising experience one would say.
"I love coming back to my family and sharing the stories of the adventure."
After hearing that, we have to ask – why do you do it?
Good question! There are many moments where you think, “Why am I here?” But for me, the harder it gets the more exciting the adventure, and the more you find out about yourself and your team.
The Ragamuffin team has a great spirit – we are all friends, and we don't give up. So going through the treacherous conditions is hardening by nature and addictive in the feeling of getting through it. The calm after the storm is truly enlightening.
You must have a very calm family to endure the stress of watching the race from afar.
My wife Dai is incredibly supportive with all my sailing, but that time away is hard on all of us. But she knows how much sailing means to me and the happiness it brings, so at the end of the day she is happy too.
There’s no doubt that the Hobart race brings a little worry and stress to my family and friends who follow it. It's a seriously fierce stretch of water, and if I go back to our capsize mentioned earlier, it's not often that a 100 ft Supermaxi is put in that situation, and takes certain conditions for it to happen.
Is there a come down of sorts after the race?
Not for me – being able to have both sides of life is really important. I love coming back to my family and sharing the stories of the adventure. It keeps us coming back for more!