Lit Bits

SYDNEY-HOBART RACE: Chundering to Tasmania

Hobart Race deck scene

Editor's Note: Tis the season. The dreaded materialistic frenzy that is Christmas is nearly upon us, to be immediately followed (thank God) by the big race to Hobart. The early forecast this year is for a downwind sleigh ride, and Bob Oatley's super-maxi Wild Oats XI may have a good chance at breaking her course record, set just last year, of 1 day, 18 hours, and change. Course records aren't that easy to come by in this race, and two in successive years would be a notable achievement. So I'll be watching developments with interest. Meanwhile, I thought I'd share this account of my one-and-only Sydney-Hobart experience, circa year 2000.

MY RIDE, appropriately enough, was named Antipodes. She wasn't a racing boat, but a dedicated cruiser, a Taswell 56, built in 1991 to a design by Bill Dixon. I had first met her in the Canary Islands in 1992 while bumming around the North Atlantic as pick-up crew.

During my tenure aboard, her owner, Geoff Hill, generous to a fault, shared with me his unique Australian essence, taught me the words to several songs whose lyrics cannot be repeated in polite company, and promised he would one day lure me to the Land of Oz. Her skipper, Glenn Belcher, an unreconstructed rebel from South Carolina, took good care of me and learned me a thing or two about sailing as we voyaged across the Atlantic from the Canaries to the Bahamas.

When Geoff finally decided to keep his promise eight years later, he cut right to the chase. Just a one-line e-mail flickering at me like pornography from across the Internet: Could you would you should you dare do the 2000 Hobart race with me and Cap'n Ahab Belcher and a motley crew of Aussies on good ship Antipodes?

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BERNARD MOITESSIER: What Really Happened to Joshua

Moitessier on Joshua

Bernard Moitessier is remembered primarily for his famous 1968-69 Golden Globe voyage, in which he blew off a chance to win the first non-stop singlehanded round-the-world race and kept on sailing halfway around the world again to Tahiti to "save his soul." But he is also remembered for wrecking not one, but three different boats during the course of his sailing career. As is documented in his first book, Sailing to the Reefs (Un Vagabond des Mers Sud in the original French), he lost two boats named Marie-Therese sailing on to reefs in the Indian Ocean and in the Caribbean in 1952 and 1958. Much later, in 1982, he lost Joshua, the 40-foot steel ketch that made him famous, on a beach at Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

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THE BOY, ME AND THE CAT: Cruising South Down the ICW (Before There Was an ICW)

Plummer illo

These days voyaging south down the U.S. East Coast via the Intracoastal Waterway is so commonplace as to be cliché. Literally thousands of cruisers now make the pilgrimage annually. Calling themselves "snowbirds," they ply the murky waters of the ICW in all manner of vessels, both power and sail, and pride themselves on the tobacco-colored bow stains that denote multiple annual transits.
But back in the early 20th century, when long-distance cruising was still in its infancy, taking a boat all the way from New England to Florida was a challenging proposition. One of the first to take up the challenge--and perhaps the very first to do so under sail--was an unassuming insurance salesman from New Bedford, Massachusetts, named Henry Plummer. An avid amateur sportsman who enjoyed hiking, hunting, and sailing, Plummer had long dreamed of embarking on an extended cruise and at last got his chance after retiring early in 1912 at age 47.

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GAMBIA RIVER CRUISE: Africa Dances

C. Doane on Kuntaur Hill

IT IS AN UNWRITTEN RULE that every cruise up an African river must have a Greater Purpose--some guy named Kurtz to chase after, a lost explorer to rescue, a legendary city of gold to loot, some palpable goal to lure you ever onward into regions where you might not otherwise venture. My partner Carie and I by now had spent nearly two weeks cruising up the Gambia in my old Alberg 35 yawl and decided finally we had two of these: we wanted to see a hippopotamus and we wanted to attend a dance.

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