Final report by JOHN FAIRLEY ("Archie" is my sailing nickname)


Sydney Hobart 14 Dec 2012 - 3 Jan 2013

The project came together in July 2012. I have always wanted to do the Sydney Hobart Race and a crew slot became available on a Volvo 60 called “Merit”. I persuaded the Partners in my business – JFP Strategic Planning that we should use it as our Charity project for 2012/13. As the project formed we decided to raise funds for Help for heroes (H4H) in the same way as we did during a transatlantic race in 2009 when we raised £12,000. We also included a Special Forces Charity Pilgrim Bandits.

Lbdr Ben Parkinson, the most disabled soldier to survive the Afhgan conflict, who was a member of my old Regiment 7 Para RHA, was the “talisman” for the project . He was awarded an MBE for his charity work in the New Years Honours

I arrived in Sydney on Dec 15 to stay with an old friend Michelle “Paddy” who had crewed with me on the Global Challenge round the world race in 2000/01. The boat preparation started immediately and I was quite surprised just how much we had to do. The skipper Brian (bald head in picture - very friendly and knowledgeable South African) – directed and kept the priorities on track. The emphasis on safety was a credit to the crew.

After 4 days of prep we started our crew work up. We did crew training over 2 days and 1 night. We covered all the drills, which on a Volvo 60 with it’s pedestal grinder, were quite different to what I was used to. We covered tacking, sail changes, reefing, spinnaker hoists and drops using the letter box drop technique. I got back into woolling up the dropped spinnaker. We also did Man Overboard drills. Our kit allowance was very small including toothbrush with half handle removed, 4 shared sleeping bags between 16 - as it happens I never had time to get into one as we were permanently in our foul weather gear and a mid layer – and in my case plenty of sweets!

Start day was very exciting. We had a crew breakfast followed by pictures then we were INTO the race. Brian and Leo encouraged us all to soak up the atmosphere in Sydney Harbour before the start with 100s of boats and ferries out to watch and cheer the Race Fleet, of 77 yachts, on their way.

In the first 24 hours out of Sydney Heads we went further off shore to try and get better winds. The sea state was pretty uncomfortable and after that first 24 hours of close hauled and constant tacking we were pretty knackered. However once we were into our watch routine things settled down. We had 3 watches – 3 hours on, 3 hours on stand-by and 3 hours off. Over the race we probably got on average about 2 hours sleep in 9 hours. We seldom got out of our kit particularly in the last 36 hours. The smell in the boat was maturing! The “room of death” – the one loo (head) we had, was avoided with a vengeance. Where possible it was over the stern and as we ate very little, the more serious aspect was not a problem.

The 16 man crew were a great bunch of guys – 2 girls (honorary guys). The skipper Brian and owner Leo were a great pair of characters and very good value. Everyone was very experienced and most had sailed with each other, so it felt really good. They really did embrace the two”poms” – Mo Hands and I. Over the next 36 hours we had a real mixture, almost being becalmed on a couple of occasions but also a really good period of downwind sailing. With the spinnaker up we averaged about 15 knots with a top speed of 22kts – awesome! Got back into wooling spinnakers! A rather sweaty business! They went back up without mishap – phew!

The last 18 hours was amazing. We were racing down the Tasmanian coast with 40knots of wind on the nose – gusting 50knots. On a couple of occasions it felt as if we might get “knocked over”. The winds were coming straight out of the Southern Ocean – it was seriously cold with waves breaking over the boat. The contrast with the impressive Jurassic coastline and blue skies was dramatic.

We eventually turned into the Derwent River at midnight on the 30 January and reached Hobart at 2am. It was a shame that we arrived in the early hours of the morning as there was no arrival crowds – which during the day were very large. It did not bother us. We tied up and headed for Customs – I had been told by the guys that the race did not finish until we had “cleared Customs” which confused me a little – however it was the Customs House Bar that was open 24 hours a day over the race period! We were clearing Customs within 30 minutes and I think we were there 36 hours later!!

On New Years eve Mo and I returned to Sydney and watched the spectacular Sydney Bridge New Year fireworks.

My abiding memories of the project:

  • A really great crew, with humour and “can do” attitude from prep through to the finish
  • The room of death
  • 1 x 2 cracked ribs; 1 x dislocated shoulder; 1 x hypothermia
  • 22 knots down wind
  • 40 knots on the nose going down the spectacular Tasmanian jurassic coastline
  • Clearing “customs”

It was a privilege to race on “Merit”. Many thanks to my Aussie friends!

We were 20th over the line and 3rd in class

The winner “Wild Oats” a 100’ super

maxi in 1 day 18 hours – a new record

The project was funded by JFP Strategic Planning and we have raised £10,000 for Help for Heroes and Pilgrim Bandits, which is fantastic. Can I just thank the following:

  • Tui Travel plc for donating £3,000 – it was as unexpected as it was generous.
  • The Crew of “ Merit” for donating £750 in return for Archie “dropping” his trews (tartan trousers) on a table while “clearing customs”
  • Servon Design for providing the website and emailing support that was critical to the raising of funds
  • Paul Nathanson of PNPR whose outstanding PR support provided superb coverage
  • London Scottish RFC who allowed us to use a League Game to publicise and raise funds
  • Lastly Judy Campbell my partner (and Travel Agent) who gave me my a 3 week leave pass over Xmas and now has authority to refuse any other leave passes other than for social sailing!!!

To Ben Parkinson, his mother and father and their very kind support – see

Well done H4H! Keep up the fantastic work and many thanks Ben for your support.