The Sydney to Hobart is one of the world's great yacht races. But in
1998 it was struck by terrible disaster, when a ferocious storm forced
most of the fleet to retire and claimed six lives.
One of the yachts competing was the 43 footer, the Sword of Orion. During
that storm the Sword of Orion was a cork on the ocean, battling its way
against huge seas. All of a sudden the crew heard a roar like the sound
of a train, a breaking wave of 80 feet hit their yacht side on, and
flipped it over. When the boat righted itself, one crewman had been swept
away, the mast had torn away from its footing and was threatening to
spear straight through the hull, and the equipment and rigging was in
The crew sent out a mayday call and did their best to keep the yacht
afloat. They braced the hull to prevent it from collapsing, they started
bailing out the water seeping in, and like a cork bobbing on a violent
ocean they waited for a rescue team to arrive.
They waited through the night and heard nothing. Then in the dim light of
early morning one of the crewman saw something he almost couldn't
believe. There just 150 metres away was another yacht! He raced below
deck to grab the flares. He let off the first, but got no response. He
let off a second, but got no response. He let off the third, but got no
response. Hadn't they seen him? Couldn't they see this yacht was in
trouble? He let off a fourth and a fifth, but still no response. With
their hearts sinking the crew of the Sword of Orion watched the other
yacht sail away.
The other yacht was the Margaret Rintoul II The skipper of the Margaret
Rintoul had seen the flares set off by the Sword of Orion, but was faced
with an agonising decision. One of the first rules of yachting is that
you always go to the aid of a yacht in distress. But the Margaret Rintoul
was only just making it through the storm herself. The engine was not
working, making manoeuvrability in the atrocious conditions very
difficult, and to go to the aid of Sword of Orion would mean turning the
Margaret Rintoul II side-on to the giant waves, and that would mean a
very strong risk that Margaret Rintoul II would herself be flipped and
left helpless by the sea. Weighing up the risk to his own crew the
skipper of the Margaret Rintoul II made the heartbreaking decision to
sail on. They eventually sailed to safety, and were later vindicated by
the coroner for their choice.
Meanwhile back on the Sword of Orion the crew held on. They were located
by a search plane, and a short time after watching it fly off, they heard
the drone of a helicopter engine. The helicopter lowered a cable into the
raging seas, and a crewman would jump overboard, grab the cable, attach
it to themselves and be hoisted to safety. After rescuing three of the
nine crew the helicopter had to leave, it was running low on fuel. When
it arrived back at base it had just 10 minutes of fuel left. The six
remaining crew waited out a cold and terrifying night. Then the next
morning another helicopter arrived, able to rescue the remaining six
crewman. Moment after the last crewman was rescued the Sword of Orion was
flung down the face of another huge wave and began to crack apart.
I tell this story because it seems to me that in many ways our society
today resembles the yachts caught in that storm. It's a crazy suggestion
in a way. In one sense we could feel that we are sailing in light
breezes, gentle seas and dazzling sunshine. After all, we are enjoying
the greatest prosperity we have ever had. We enjoy medical technology
unparalleled in history. We live in possibly the most stable and peaceful
democracy in the world, and we're thrashing the West Indies in the
Yet when social researchers ask ordinary Australians how they're feeling,
time and again the answer is that we don't feel as though we're sailing
on calm waters, but that we feel like we're caught in a terrible storm.
In his book Turning Point, Hugh Mackay suggests that we are unnerved by
the relentless waves of change that have swept our society in the last 20
to 30 years.
And part of our dilemma is that we all feel so overwhelmed by this that
we're like the crew of the Margaret Rintoul II. We're having such a
difficult time simply keeping ourselves afloat that we^̉ve got no energy
left to help others in distress.
Source: www.ozsermonillustrations.com. Information on the yacht race found
in "Rob Mundle, Fatal Storm".