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Excerpt from an Expedition Report prepared by Guest Lecturer John Longley
“At 0900 on Boxing Day 65 guests joined Coral Discoverer where she was lying at anchor in Broken Bay, North of Sydney. It was an overcast morning with slight seas and a very light East-South-Easterly blowing. As soon as the guests were on board Captain Nathan Clark ordered the anchor to be raised and Coral Discoverer moved smoothly towards Barrenjoey with her bow lifting ever so slightly as she felt the first swell from the open seas. Xplorer, the ship’s excursion auxiliary, had hurried back to shore to collect the luggage and was soon alongside. She was retrieved on the Ship’s hydraulic stern hoist and Captain Nathan telegraphed for more steam so the ship could move quickly south to position herself off the famous Sydney Heads prior to the start of the 73rd Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race set for 1300 (OK, actually Captain Nathan moved the throttle in the bridge but “telegraphed for more steam” sounds better).
During the passage to the Heads the guests attended a regulatory muster drill conducted by the Ship’s Purser, Sara. The guests were then introduced to the ship’s officers and crew as well as the excursion team – David, Jamie and Guest Lecturer John Longley. John was then invited to introduce himself and he told of his sailing experience in ocean racing that included four Sydney to Hobart races and the Americas Cup, as well as his role in the construction of Endeavour and his subsequent interest in maritime history.
The maritime authorities had taken it upon themselves to create a three-mile exclusion zone around the seaward turning mark outside the heads, so the Ship was unable to enter the Harbour. The guests mustered in the Bridge Deck Lounge and watched the start on the Ship’s large television screens. The start was a mild affair owing to the very light conditions in the Harbour but the super maxi Blackjack slipped away from the fleet and led to the first turning mark. Comanche was second, closely followed by Wildoats XI and as these two came on the wind to beat to the offshore mark, there was a port and starboard incident between them that almost saw them colliding. The sailing guests on board Coral Discoverer were of one opinion – Wildoats XI was clearly in the wrong, being the give-way boat and they were shocked that she failed to exonerate herself by doing a 720° penalty turn.
As this incident unfolded the guests were able to turn their attention from the television screens and watch the huge black sails of the leaders rapidly approach the Ship as by then Captain Nathan had positioned Coral Discoverer beyond the exclusion zone to the south and on the rhum line for Hobart. It was only a few minutes before Blackjack, now flying a huge reaching genoa came barreling past the ship doing over 14 knots. Wildoats XI and Comanche soon followed with InfoTech, the last of the super maxis, not far behind. What a thrill for all on board to be able to see these huge yachts so close as they started to tear down the NSW coast as the wind had shifted further to the east and strengthened.
Coral Discoverer moving at 11 knots was no match for them and the super maxis were soon heading for the horizon as the next group of yachts began overtaking the ship, creating more opportunities for spectacular photography and viewing.
As Coral Discoverer continued south in the growing breeze that had now gone around to the North-East, the guests assembled in the Bridge Deck Lounge to hear a presentation by John on how boats sail and the way the sport was structured from sailing dinghies through keelboats, multi-hulls, ocean racing yachts and tall ships.
Throughout the evening John gave regular updates on the race but after a great dinner from chef Ricky and his “hot hands of the kitchen” most retired early, as it had been a long and very exciting day.”