“For me, the best system is where I spend a lot of time before the race laying out the plan with the whole crew, and especially the key decision makers, and then working to execute the plan,” Oxley said. “I always benefit from watch leaders asking questions and probing my recommendations to improve the final decisions.”
Crew knowledge also matters. Honey said he briefed the on-deck crew every two or three hours. “The better they understand it, the better they’ll sail,” he said, adding that this helps the sailors negotiate gusts, lulls and unexpected squalls.
Communication is especially important if a strategic move that results in a short-term loss of position is made for better position later, or when decisions are not obvious. “I make it clear whether I am 90 percent strong on a recommendation, or whether it is closer to 50-50,” Oxley said.
And in the Sydney Hobart, jump-ball calls can apply until the finish line.
While most of the race’s miles involve exposed coastal or offshore sailing, the out-flowing River Derwent stands as the race’s final crux.
May described the Derwent as miles of frustration, a time when navigators need to play their lucky cards. Arrival time is crucial. Most afternoons and evenings feature a useful breeze, while most nights are calm. “Light winds will only allow you to ghost along the shore, keeping out of the adverse current,” May said of nighttime arrivals.
Cahalan added that many races had been won and lost in the river.
Add up the race’s variables, coupled with its attrition rate, and there’s little question why this race attracts world-class navigators, who keep returning.
“It’s just so complicated and so difficult for the navigator,” Honey said. “It’s my favorite race because it’s the hardest.”