Chapter 4: The culprit.
“Beware of abnormal freak waves up to 20-meters in height…”
– Marine Warning on lower corner for navigation charts off of South Africa.
Like the broad public miss-conception that things BIGGER are better (particularly in the age of fuel guzzling off-road vehicles that spend their lives driving on clean multiple-lane free-ways). It is often broad misnomer that a larger boat is safer than a small one.
…Or secondly that rounding Cape Horn is the baddest dog on the block when 99% of the Vendee Globe around the world racers, Volvo sailors and Jon Sanders claim the worst weather and sea conditions they encountered during their circumnavigations was south-east of South Africa while passing the French owned Kerguelen Islands.
Tankers are still broken in half during gales off the notorious South African ‘Transvaal Coast’ (Skeleton Coast), simply because they are TOO big: When a strong south-westerly gale blows against the six knots of Agulhas Current it creates vertical waves that suspend the bow of a ship on one wave with the stern on another across the span of the trough, and the ship can’t structurally support its own weight and breaks in half!!
…Meanwhile a small yacht like the S&S 34 can be knocked down or rolled but come back and keep going like an oceanic carnival ride from the mind of Stephen King!
Jon proved you could face the Southern Ocean in a small boat safely all times of the year and one young sailor took note. A young spectator to Jon’s successful record finishes was Australian David Dicks. His dad had been a famed ‘Royal Flying Doctor’ in the outback but had tragically passed away while David was still young…
Jon had been a friend of the family and it came to be that Jon served as a kind of role model and took David under his wing. This culminated in David crewing on numerous yacht deliveries across the bottom of Australia and aboard Jon’s boat to and from Sydney Hobart races.
It was on one such delivery in the Great Australian Bight that Dave confronted Jon at age-14 and said – “What would you say if I had a go at your record?” Jon thought for a moment and said – “I’d help”.
If Jon’s double and triple circumnavigation voyages were revolutionary from the stand-point that no one thought you could do it in winter let alone on such a small boat – then David served to drive the point home further for anyone locked in the bilge that hadn’t noticed Jon’s five consecutive ‘laps’…
“It speaks for itself I suppose” -David Dicks
Sitting in David Dick’s Hilton pent-house suite in Sydney on the eve of 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson’s successful finish to become the new youngest solo circumnavigator nonstop, solo & unassisted – Linda Pasquariello and I are sitting with Dave over a bottle of Bundaberg rum…
David’s telling us how he’d get excited versus nervous when it got really rough because he knew the boat could take it. Keep in mind this is coming from someone who was washed overboard below New Zealand and got knock-down a dozen times on the approach to a May (mid-winter) rounding of Cape Horn.
He’d been heaved-two for almost a week half-way across the Southern Ocean between New Zealand and the Horn during consecutive knock-downs that took his wind generator, a solar panel, soaked his engine and yet his radio report over the side-band to Jon and family continued to be – “All’s well on board!”
It must take allot moxie for a then 17-year old sailor to make such a blase statement on a regular basis while “Seaflight” was relentlessly pummeled…
And a lot of faith in the capability of “Seaflight”. I think both. He knew what Jon’s ‘Perie Banou’ had done and what he’d already been thru ‘without mishap’. In some ways, he probably realized the boat would put up with as much or more than he could. The Southern Ocean in mid-winter is a cold, dark and violent place, the nautical equal of an ascent of K2 in the ‘wrong-season’… ; )