Off The Deep End...

Recently Australian Michael Blackburn sailed a Laser from Tasmania to mainland Australia - blasting downwind for 115 miles and averaging 8.6 knots for the distance. The wind was fresh and well aft and the seas were big - rolling in from the deep reaches of the Southern Ocean, so Blackburn, an Olympic medalist in Lasers, got some great rides during his 13-hour cruise. Blackburn said he was inspired to make the voyage when talking to other Laser fanatics about the possibility of sailing a Laser in really big seas for a film, "and we decided the film needed a big ending like sailing Bass Strait."

This piece of ocean between Tasmania and the state of Victoria, is notorious for its strong winds and tumbling seas, which are high and steep due to the strong tidal currents swirling through the strait. It is in the Bass Strait that yachts on the Sydney - Hobart race frequently find themselves in trouble. Serous breakdowns, crew injury, capsize, sinkings and loss of life are not uncommon in this body of water.

Blackburn had with him a hand held GPS and a compass as navigation tools, and for safety, an inflatable PFD with tether, strobe light (he left before dawn) flares, satellite phone, EPIRB, VHF radio and light sticks. For snacks he carried bananas, chocolate and concentrated glucose, and an assortment of drinks.

According to the support boat that accompanied him he reached a top speed of 19.7 knots on one sustained drive down a wave. His average speed of 8.6 knots is remarkable as he had to keep driving for 13 hours. Although big waves will give a good planing boat some tremendous boosts of speed, the problem with such waves is that they have a back side on which a boat can be very slow, and steep waves have deep troughs which will temporarily blanket a small sailboat. it would be interesting to know if the Laser might have averaged better than 8.6 knots in flat water and the same amount of wind. But just where you would find a 115 mile course with no sea and lots of wind is yet another question.

Following are comments from Michael Blackburn in response to a congratulatory message from Bruce Kirby Bruce,

A message from the guru! Thanks.
The trip wasn't as hard as I thought it would be and it was good to get a bit of publicity for the Laser world wide.

Having sailed one for 14yrs I figured I deserved to do some downwind only!

Watch out for the upcoming DVD of the adventure.