out of 150 boats, including his, retired from the race due to extreme weather. Not discouraged, he raced again in 1985 and then, under the press of other obligations, did not race again until 1994 and then again in 1998.
On race day, Saturday, December 26, 1998, the weather forecasts were not good. A low was developing, and the initial forecast was for gale force winds, 34 to 47 knots. By race time, some forecasts were predicting 50 to 55 knots, and a storm warning was issued. What concerned the meteorologists was a fast-moving low-pressure area, heading east through Bass Strait. If it developed, the racing fleet would be pounded as it came past the south end of Australia and into the open ocean. It is storms out of the southwest that create a problem in the race. When this occurs, storm waves interact with the Australia Current coming down from the north, creating a condition in which waves pile up into huge seas while traversing the shallow waters of Bass Strait.
Sayonara, a boat owned by Larry Ellison of Oracle Corporation, was first out of the harbor, followed by Brindabella, owned by George Snow. Both were big, fast boats—fiercely competitive—and favored to place first overall. The balance of the fleet—113 boats—followed. Peter Lewis was on a 43-foot-long boat called Esprit d’ Corp. Initially the trip south was good, the fastest boats doing 20 knots. Lewis had gotten a private weather forecast and knew that they faced 50- to 55-knot winds that night—“Tough but to be expected in a Hobart,” was the way he put it to me.
His recollection of the seas that first night as the barometer plunged and the weather got worse and worse was: “A long cold night on the wind, a lot of banging and crashing into 50 knots and a building sea. At daylight on a cold, blowing Sunday morning, the crew of Esprit d’ Corp noted that the mast had bent during the night—not a good sign, particularly with more bad weather coming. These weren’t ordinary waves,” Lewis said. “They had 4 or 5 feet of white water on top and no back to them. They’d leap up and the boat would rise and then drop like a stone for 20 feet. After much deliberation, and being very mindful of the weather, Esprit d’ Corp turned west and headed for shelter at Bermagui. At this point, we’d traveled about 160 nautical miles, a little less than a third of the race. We made Bermagui around 3:30 Sun-