Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jessica Watson - A Fabulous Achievement

Jessica Watson has met every challenge along the way and triumphed. Those who have been to sea in small boats will know how much of a challenge she has faced. This is a very raw and confronting experience, there's not much between you and the elements. Disaster can be close and sudden.
I have a sense however that Jess is facing her greatest challenge right now. Jessica and her team have always said that she won't go through Bass Strait, but rather will pass south of Tasmania. That's good and sensible, the passage through Bass Strait has some elements of "threading a needle" particularly if you are solo and sleep deprived. There's plenty of shipping, as I well know. You can see that here. Just home in on the Bass Strait area and you'll see the traffic as well as the geographical obstacles.
Here's the rub however: Jess has come a long way north due to weather and is now almost loitering at the entrance to Bass Strait - off the mouth of the Hunter Strait really. This is the time of year when low pressure systems sweep through - on about the latitude of Tasmania and about every 4-7 days. If Jess is to pass south of Tasmania she will have to turn south and run down the west coast of Tasmania. I'm not in the least convinced that that is a good move.
Ocean Passages for the World is an Admiralty publication that has been published since the days of the sailing ships. It adjures masters as follows:
...and thence west of Tasmania...It is often necessary, and in heavy weather, desirable to make this passage at a considerable distance from the coast of Tasmania; namely at from 120 to 250 miles from the W coast...
Now that's the summer route! The winter route is as follows:
For the rest of the year, and as an alternative to the summer route, pass through Bass Strait...
Now let's be clear. Jessica is sailing a vessel that's much more weatherly than the old sailing ships. She is also naturally disinclined to take the risk of another encounter with shipping. However there is real risk in running the west coast of Tasmania at close proximity at this time of the year and solo. Without sufficient sea room Jess doesn't have the option of running before any weather until it abates. Instead she must continue to sail and to claw offshore.
If the conditions do deteriorate with the inevitable passage of a front then she may be placed in a difficult situation.
To put this in perspective. This week, as a front passed, the Cape Sorrell waverider buoy registered a maximum wave height of around 13.5 metres and was at or above 10 metres for a period of nearly 3 days. It can be very hard or impossible to make progress to windward with wave heights like that. Add to that there really aren't any safe havens on that west coast.
It's a tough decision, however I reckon I'd rely on my AIS and run through Bass Strait. Of course that is not to underestimate the unpleasant conditions that form in Bass Strait in a SW gale.
Whatever the decision I think that Jess has demonstrated a fantastic determination and skill and I wish her a safe and quiet run to Sydney.

1 comment:

  1. Just an update 09:30 UTC 30 April: if Jesse is running down the Tasmanian west coast then it looks like the Gods are smiling on her, at least for the next few hours. She will have W-NW winds mild, to moderate overnight however the sea will be rough probably.
    During the day on Saturday the wind will increase to 35 knots from the NW and then late in the evening a change will go around to the W-NW and increase.
    However on Sunday the wind will go back towards the NW at up to 35 knots with seas of 2-4 metres and a swell rising 6-8 metres.
    Monday will see conditions moderating but staying in the N-NW quadrant.
    So with any luck Jesse will have a fast but boisterous ride around Southwest Cape. Next week she'll want southerly quadrant winds of course for her run up the east coast to Sydney.
    Go Jessica, Go!!