From Bar to Bow

Published Mon 20 Mar 2023


 From Bar to Bow

In 2015, I got a job at a place called Customs House Hotel. At the time, I had no idea that this decision would change the trajectory of my life. It was working there during the 2015 Rolex Sydney to Hobart that I got caught up in the atmosphere of sailing. Customs House had a quote up on the wall: “You haven’t finished Rolex Sydney to Hobart until you have passed through Customs House”. I knew that year, that I would one day walk back through the door as a sailor.

It was 2017 that I made the move for university, and genuinely picked my university based on the proximity to a Yacht Club. That was where my time in Wollongong started. I went from sailing on a river, to sailing off the coast – much bigger swell than I had ever experienced before. I still yearned for a Sydney to Hobart, but I had no money and no time. So I soaked in learning as much as I could.

In 2022, with a stable job and consistent time off, I finally bit the bullet. And so, I quietly slipped away from Wollongong Yacht Club and made the journey to Sydney every weekend for the 12 weeks that it takes for the Winter Series. While I did that series on a boat called Blink, it pricked the ears of the boat called Reve. Or more specifically, it pricked the ears of one of Reve’s old crew, who I had kept in contact with from 2015, and had recommended me.

And so, with 7 years of sailing behind me, and a grand total of 6 races with the Reve team behind me, I got added to a group chat that I never thought I’d see: Hobart bound 2022. When I tell you, the feelings I had on the night of the 25th of December outdid every Christmas Eve I have ever had.

The atmosphere leading up to and on the 26th of December is like nothing I had ever experienced. There were cameras everywhere, I was suddenly at press nights with  teams that I had spent my nights in Hobart serving beer to, and everywhere I saw people who had one goal: Get to Hobart. Leaving the marina that day was surreal. I had left that marina every week for the last 5 months, but this time I wasn’t coming back. We were ready to go, and had almost let go of every rope, when I saw a face running down the marina – the guy who I met in 2015 in Hobart. It made it extra special, as he had encouraged me to sail all those years ago, and here he was watching me fulfil a dream.

We went out to the harbour, had our briefing, and put up those sails.

Now, I will go sideways for just a second. When I was driving back home after that first time working Rolex in Hobart, I heard a song with the following lyrics, and I linked in immediately to Rolex Sydney Hobart: “Time flies by in the yellow and green (Rolex), stick around and you’ll see what I mean, there’s a mountain top (Mt Wellington) that I’m dreaming of, if you need me you know where I’ll be, I’ll be riding shotgun (bow).

It was during that briefing, that I got told I’d be at the bow for the start of the race. I nearly cried.

I never saw a harbour so busy as I did that day. There were boats everywhere, helicopters and drones filled the sky, and having watched the start for years, I know exactly what was happening back home. I had my family, and have since found out, the families of many of my students, tuned into watch the start.

We did a tack and heard a boat call out our name and crew, and that’s when it hit me that I was on my way. I was homeward bound.

To be honest, I preferred once we got out of the heads. Gone was the frenzy, the “STARBOARD!” that was constantly thrown around. It was just us, and our little crew of 9, and one direction: south.

The first 24 hours of that trip we were sitting 1st on PHS, and I’d call it champagne sailing. It was blue skies, a beautiful 15knot of wind, spinnaker flying perfectly, and the crew was well and happy. We were on three-hour rotations, and trust me, those three hours were needed every single time. Sadly, I was on my 3-hour sleep shift when we passed Wollongong, so I wasn’t able to wave, but I gather those on deck did it for me.

That first night, with no light around, presented the best view of the Milky Way I have ever seen, and I don’t think I will ever forget the peaceful lapping of night spinnaker sailing under starlight. It was magical.

I am almost certain we forgot what race we were a part of until we got to Green Cape. And then all of us went ‘oh shit, yeah we are racing’. We radioed in and started the battle ground of Bass Strait.

It was Bass Strait where we got tested as a team, and the first part where I really felt out of my comfort zone. We got hit by 35-40knots, and 4-meter swell. Gone was the spinnaker (and when I say gone, I mean we wrapped it around the forestay to such an extent that we sent Charlie up the mast in the middle of 4-meter swell in Bass Strait). In was Jib 4, and no main – didn’t have a Reef 3.

It was under these sails that we hit 18.4 SOG going down the face of a wave.
Bass Strait threw us some punches. We got doused on deck so much that there were moments I couldn’t see the others on board. We left the hatch open and soaked everything inside. We got hit by a rogue wave from the side that threw our skipper across the inside of the boat at such speed that we did the last 36 hours of the race with our skipper on his back with his foot bandaged and in ice.

Tasmania came into view on Day 3. It was a welcome sight and brought with it a reduction in the crazy weather system. We still had plenty of wind, but it was much more enjoyable with giant rolling swell and a pod of dolphins to cheer us on. We weren’t tired at this stage, but we were losing our sanity slightly – which was evident when all the girls on board went up to the bow to ‘click’ at the dolphins to talk to them.

We rounded Tasman Island under darkness in the early hours of Day 4, with not much more than an outline against the stars to note it, and we broke dawn off the coast of Cape Raoul – a Cape that I had walked with Dad not 3 months earlier, before I knew I’d be racing this year. I got my phone out for the first time and send a selfie of Cape Raoul to Dad: “From the other angle”.

None of us slept then. We were becalmed not far from Storm Bay and caught up in a new energy. Helicopters were now coming out to film and greet the fleet as we headed through Storm Bay and into the Derwent River.

We were all on deck, having the best chat when we came around a sight I hadn’t seen in 7 years. Iron Pot – the first race I ever did was around that little Island, and now it was a marker of just how close we were.

The high our team was on for the last part of that race was special and made even more special for me as we came up the Derwent and lay eyes on Mount Wellington. I was looking straight at it and heard one of my teammates call my name – “Lisa, welcome home”.

There were boats of kids out with welcome signs, people yelling from their jet skis, and finally a yellow buoy and a finish line I’d used many times before. I knew this area. I knew this finish line. I knew this town. And I knew my family was standing at the finish line to welcome us home.

The atmosphere in Hobart is better than the one in Sydney. In Sydney, it’s a lot of fuss over what is to come, but in Hobart it is recognition of what you have just achieved. And there is no shortage of people down at the waterfront to cheer you in and clap you to your spot in the marina.

We had Southern Cross television on the dock when we tied up, and behind them a family that has supported this journey for 7 years. The family that had collected our entire team’s gear from the storage unit based on a 3am text from me the night before. It didn’t take our team long to meander the short distance to somewhere for lunch and a well-earned beer.

The team walked in, but I held back for just a moment. To watch my little team. The team I’d just spent 4 days with, made life-long memories with, and achieved such a monumental feat with. And then I too, walked through the doors of Customs House Hotel.

Not for the first time by a long shot, but finally as I promised myself I would 7 years ago.