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Bittersweet race for local sailor

By Mark Beale

FOR Whitsunday yachtsman Mal Robertson, competing in the recent 70th Sydney to Hobart race was an “incredible journey” with an unforgettable ending.

Robertson and his performance yacht Eureka II arrived in Sydney late last October after completing the journey from Airlie Beach in six days.

The non-stop coastal passage of 1310 nautical miles was part of a training regime that would ultimately include procedures such as man overboard drills, life raft deployment, EPIRB activation and a crew qualifying passage to the Taupo Seamount and back.

On December 26, the start day, Robertson described the atmosphere at Sydney’s Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) as “electric”.

Eureka II and her crew enjoyed a clean spinnaker run out of Sydney Harbour – “and then the first of many of Eureka‘s headsails [was] torn beyond repair,” Robertson said.

Describing the overall experience of the 628 nautical mile race as “most rewarding”, Robertson also admitted it tested both yacht and crew.

“Coping with fatigue and dehydration was a common factor with all the crew,” he said.

Perhaps the most poignant moment and the one that Robertson will never forget is being buzzed by a small plane just moments before Eureka II hit a squall on the way into Tasmania’s Storm Bay.

“The pilot gave me the thumbs up and the photographer smiled at us and off they went to refuel and unload their material,” he said.

Eureka was only seven miles away from the finish in an unrelenting 50 knots, when a May Day call came across the radio waves.

The plane, which had gone out again, had nose-dived, sinking quickly in about 86 meters of water, with no survivors found.

“To go over the finish line for me was [a time] of jubilation and sadness,” Robertson said.

The next day, at the media centre, Robertson saw “the most incredible picture” of Eureka entering Storm Bay.

“We now have come to understand that Eureka was one of the last yachts photographed,” he said.

“That phrase that a picture says a thousand words certainly has a whole new meaning to me.”

Eureka II placed 44th on line honours and 15th in the IRC Division 2.

Photographer Tim Jones, 61 and pilot Sam Langford, were the people named as the victims of the plane crash.

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