Today was meant to be the day Army’s Warrant Officer Class 2 Meika Wright took part in her third Sydney to Hobart race.
She had been counting down the days when the decision to cancel the iconic Sydney to Hobart race was made amid a COVID-19 outbreak on Sydney’s northern beaches.
Had things of been different, she would have sailed in the Delher 46 yacht, Wings,
Luckily for WO2 Wright, any disappointment in the cancellation was reduced by the fact she had competed in the event twice before: in 2017 and last year.
With more than 30 years' sailing experience, WO2 Wright’s love of the sport comes from negotiating nature, which she said took the same skills and teamwork as any battle.
“If you can understand nature, and what she has to offer, you can get the boat moving really fast,” she said.
“The beauty is that she’s always changing, so we have to analyse and adapt.
“It requires really good leadership, great communication, coordination between each of the roles on board, and an understanding of your team.
“You also need to have absolute trust in your team, because you have each other’s lives in your hands.”
She said competitors could not take Mother Nature for granted.
“It’s not scary, it’s just about adequate training with your team in various conditions,” she said.
But unpredictability has upsides.
During last year’s race, a lull in the usually wind-lashed waters of Bass Strait afforded WO2 Wright and her crew the rare opportunity for a swim.
“We had two days of very little wind and, at one point, we had an absolute sea fog whiteout for three hours – we couldn’t see more than 50m in front of us,” she said.
“It’s always the way. If you make a sail change, the conditions inevitably change back and you have to adjust again.
“We thought ‘if we go for a swim, maybe the wind will pick up just to interrupt our fun’ but it didn’t. We still had to wait.”
It’s not scary, it’s just about adequate training with your team in various conditions.
One of WO2 Wright’s duties during the Sydney to Hobart races she took part in was helming.
“You can’t helm for the full four hours of your watch; too much fatigue sets in,” she said.
Helming requires constant attention to what the wind, waves, and competition is doing, what the crew is doing and feeling, while implementing the team’s strategy.
“You can’t concentrate on it all for too long if you want to keep going fast,” Warrant Officer Class 2 Wright said.
“There’s free play in the rudder when it’s straight, which allows the boat to shift direction a little, so it’s important to always have pressure on the rudder and keep the boat on a heel (leaning).
“If you don’t have enough pressure in the sails and heel, the boat is going too slow.
“Too much pressure and you lose steerage and waste time adjusting as the boat slips sideways instead of moving forwards.
“You’re constantly adjusting it to get it performing.”