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Wednesday, December 30, 1998

Sidney-To-Hobart Race
Always Macho Turns To Suicide As Five Are Dead, Perhaps More To Come.

(Photo above: dismasted maxi boats and life-saving rescues made the 1998 Sidney-To-Hobart one to remember. )
Leading maxi yachts Brindabella, Sayonara and Marchioness were locked in a three-way duel down the New South Wales state coast Saturday as the Sydney to Hobart fleet faced deteriorating weather. The yachts were bracing for a tough night with thunderstorms predicted ahead of a west-southwesterly change expected to lash the south coast by Sunday morning. And then, British sailor Glyn Charles was missing and presumed drowned -- becoming the third fatality in the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race -- while five others remained stranded in a raft in rough seas overnight.

"It was as if I were on a wild bronco and 60-mile-per-hour fire hoses of water were shot at me," said Bill Erklens, captain of the 80-foot American yacht Sayonara, the first to finish the race. The Sydney Morning Herald said that they informed the race organizers 24 hours before the storm hit that severe weather was approaching. But even so the scale of the winds caught many by surprise. "I didn't think it would get much worse than 50 to 55 miles per hour," said Roger Badham of Maritime Weather systems, the meteorologist for 20 boats that all made it through the race. "By Sunday at 9 a.m. it was clear that it would be horrendous. The land-based lighthouse reporting 100 mile per hour winds was shocking. I was a bit nervous then." Erklens, the Sayonara's skipper, described the conditions at sea. "A solid wave would come in the black night in unexpected moments and knock you flat," he said. "It hits hard and bruises your ribs. One crewman broke his ankle when he was pushed off the high side of the boat."
(Photo above: rescued crew member returns to solid land.)

But with waves running three and four stories high, towering over the racing vessels, 70 boats abandoned the race and sought shelter. Six were abandoned or sank and 39 finished the race. Among those stuck in the tempest, Royal Australian Navy helicopters plucked almost 60 people out of the ocean. For some the help came too late. Three of the sailors were lost from the yacht Winston Churchill, a 56-year-old vessel that sank; two were confirmed dead and one was missing. Two Australian sailors were found dead after their yacht, the Business Post Naiad, capsized. The other missing sailor, Glyn Charles, 33, was swept off the Sword of Orion. He had been a member of Britain's sailing team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
(Photo above: crew members bracing against hurricane winds and 50 foot seas)

The Business Post Naiad crew posing this month, from left: Steve Walker, Peter Keats, Bruce Guy, Rob Matthews, Phillip Skeggs, Jim Rogers and Matt Sherriff. Guy and Skeggs died.

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