Berrimilla arrives in Sydney ready for Sydney Hobart race

Sydney turned on one of its special summer mornings to welcome home adventurers Alex Whitworth and Peter Crozier. Under the bluest of skies, the sun setting the harbour ablaze with light, around 25 spectator boats greeted Whitworth’s modest 10 metre yacht Berrimilla as she passed through Sydney Heads at around 8am and made her way to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

At the marina family, friends and fellow sailors warmly applauded the remarkably fresh looking pair as they secured the little boat to the quay. After twelve months Berrimilla was home. She had safely delivered her crew through the storms and mountainous seas of the Indian and Southern Oceans, around the notorious Capes Horn and Good Hope. For the pretty 28-year-old lady a rest might have seemed in order but Berrimilla will not rest for long. In just six days she will be heading back out through those same Sydney Heads, as part of the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet.
For Alex and Peter the circumnavigation, sailing those thousands of miles, at sea week after week, was merely a means to an end. “Our project was to sail three races in one year – the 2004 Rolex Sydney Hobart, the Fastnet (where they came 2nd in their division) and the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart, all on our own bottom – so we haven’t quite finished the job yet,” says Whitworth.

“The deadlines we had set ourselves pushed us on. (In six days) we have to strip the boat out completely, clean her out and put back only the things that make us go fast.
“I guess at least the club will accept that we’ve already done our qualifier,” Crozier laughs. (Crews must complete a 200 mile offshore passage to qualify for the Rolex Sydney Hobart).”

All that is for tomorrow though. Today the pair are floating on the warmth and generosity of the welcome they have received. “I am surprised at how many boats came out to see us,” a clearly moved Whitworth told the waiting media.

“So many people have done the same thing and not been recognised. I think our website has had a big effect.”

The two sailors are aware that with less than a week before the big race they have cut it very fine indeed. “As we were heading into the Indian Ocean off South Africa we hit two severe storms and just lost a week,” Crozier says.

“And we made a big decision to go further south, around the bottom of Tasmania, looking for more wind. It was riskier but it paid off and made all the difference.”

They have been lucky, too, that the weather of the last few days has made for a quick trip up the coast from Hobart. Not that Crozier is a novice to squeaking past deadlines. When he and wife Jeanne bought their own cruising boat back from Greece they got to Sydney just three weeks before Jeanne gave birth to son Luke.

There were some hairy moments this trip. Twice Berrimilla found herself with her mast in the water. At one point, south of New Zealand, she was to all intents and purposes inverted in seas that rose higher than the tip of her mast.

“We were on our side with the leeward mast spreader under water at 140 degrees and 70 degrees down in the bow,” Whitworth recalls.

“Technically the boat is set up go to go 146 degrees before it is ready to keep rolling all the way. But she has been wonderful. We haven’t broken a thing, though a few things were washed overboard including our life raft at one stage.”

Tense times indeed, so how do two blokes get by week after week without throttling each other? Oddly, in a box ten metres long and about two wide, they didn’t see too much of each other.

“We had a very strict routine of three hours on watch and three hours off, and when you are off watch you try to get as much sleep as you can, It takes both of us to change sails so if you have to do a sail change during your time off you might only get an hour’s sleep. So during the day we really only saw each other during the 10 minute handover period between watches or changing sails. We always got together at 5 o’clock each evening for g&ts though and we always had a hot meal every evening.”