Sydney to Hobart: A “Wild Thing” experience

December 27, 2010

Every year on Boxing Day, the peaceful waters of the Sydney harbour become rough and wild with nearly 100 yachts making their way to Hobart – a race that I’ve covered 3 times now.

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Photographers are assigned to media boats to get close to the main yachts. Very often you get so close to the massive super-maxi yachts that you feel like crashing every now and then. Despite this feeling, and my severe motion sickness, the Sydney to Hobart yacht race is an event I enjoy covering.

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This year it seemed like another day for me to enjoy my job. The adventure started at 11.30 GMT when A-Team, the media boat that I was on, departed from the Marina in Sydney’s lovely Rushcutters Bay. We were next to the big super-maxis as they warmed up for the race scheduled for 13.00 GMT. We were ready for the start of the race, waiting for the big yachts to sail past, close enough for us to get the pictures. But only 4 minutes after the start of the race a really wild thing happened, triggering 20 seconds of one of my worst nightmares.

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I was shooting with my 70-200mm lens as ‘Wild Thing’ got closer and closer. The crew were screaming at us to get out of their way. The boat was so close that I decided to pick up my other camera with a 16-35mm lens to get a better shot. But as soon as I put down my 70-200mm lens, I went into panic mode. The supermaxi was so close to me that I decided to run back to avoid getting knocked down. By that time, most of my colleagues in the boat were doing the same thing. As crazy as it sounds, my first thought was: are we all gonna die?
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Two seconds later, ‘A-Team’ was hit and twisted to its side by the speed of ‘Wild Thing,’ and my head was in the dilemma of either taking pictures or checking if the damage to our boat was enough to make us sink in the Sydney Harbour – a potentially deadly situation, taking into account that another 90 yachts would sail over our heads before we’d get rescued.

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Miraculously, the powerful ‘Wild Thing’ only broke the hand rail on the rear of the media boat, along with the clean water system. Twenty seconds later we all realized the boat wouldn’t sink and we were all safe… very scared but all safe. Not safe enough to get to the open sea to keep covering the start of the race, but safe enough to get back to the marina where the adventure started over an hour ago.

Boating at Sydney Harbour is one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had. A few days after my arrival to Australia, I took the Manly ferry with my wife. A few minutes after our departure, we were delighted with the magnificence of the Sydney Harbour at sunset. Paradoxically, it was another unforgettable moment in my life.

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