6 February 2013

Swuzzlebubble VIII (Davidson One Tonner)

This post continues my tribute to New Zealand yachtsman Ian Gibbs' series of offshore Swuzzlebubble yachts. Swuzzlebubble VIII started life as Beyond Thunderdome, a Laurie Davidson-designed 40 foot One Tonner owned and sailed by the late Warren Jones (Australian Ocean Racer of the Year 1994). 
Beyond Thunderdome sailing in Sydney sometime prior to 1993
Beyond Thunderdome
Beyond Thunderdome was chartered by Gibbs for the 1993 Sydney to Hobart Race and renamed Swuzzlebubble VIII for the ocean racing classic. 

The race marked something of a return to offshore racing for Gibbs, following a focus on inshore sailing on a couple of Etchells yachts (Swuzzlebubble VI and VII) which he campaigned sometime between 1986 and 1993. 

Swuzzlebubble VIII makes her way to the start of the 1993 Sydney-Hobart race (photo Gibbs Family Collection)
The race was an unhappy one for the Swuzzlebubble VIII crew. Like the 1998 edition which affected the older Business Post Naiad (ex-Swuzzlebubble V, see earlier post) a few years later, the race was affected by a significant storm. The race was started in a good breeze and sunny conditions, but about eight hours or so later the southern horizon turned black. Within 15 minutes a double weather bomb hit the fleet which resulted in horrendous seas and winds over 70 knots. The storm was enormous, with satellite photography at the time revealing a spiral cloud stretching down the Queensland coast across the Tasman Sea to the South Island of New Zealand, and back across to Tasmania. The storm centre of 986hpa was right in Bass Strait, near the race fleet. The winning yacht Ninety Seven recorded 78 knots of wind on either side of the low off Gabo Island on the night of 27 December. 

Swuzzlebubble VIII in the early stages of the race to Hobart
The mast stump
Sometime after midnight on the second night, Swuzzlebubble VIII was just entering Bass Strait when one wave, bigger than all the others, caught the yacht. The helmsman lost steerage and the yacht turned sideways and then rolled upside down where it practically went into a freefall. The yacht stayed upside down for over a minute, sinking, but very stable due to the combination of wide beam and minimum cabin size. Kevin Dibley was part of the crew and recalls that the only reason Swuzzlebubble VIII righted herself was due to "a fairly significant, punchy wave, that hit the keel with such force that it snapped the mast thus allowing the yacht to right herself again". Although upright, the yacht was swamped, with water entering the boat through various cracks in the deck and cabin top, and the spreaders of the broken rig were punching holes into the carbon fibre hull.

Fortunately all the crew on deck were harnessed on and were able to be recovered. Down below the crew worked frantically to plug the hull and pump out seawater, while looking after a badly injured Gibbs. The remainder of the rig was then cut off, the no.3 headsail was deployed as a sea anchor and the crew bailed the yacht while other yachts stood nearby. Eventually the flooded engine was brought to life and the crew motored for 12 hours towards Eden Harbour to join some of the record 66 yachts that had retired from the race.

The boat suffered extensive damage and after being considered write off by her insurers the yacht was rescued by a couple of Australian yachtsmen, and it is understood that she returned to racing and as of 2006-07 was sailing from her port of Brisbane.
The bow pulpit was torn off by the force of the wave that capsized Swuzzlebubble VIII (photo Gibbs Family Collection)
Damage to the cabin structure is clearly evident here (photo Gibbs Family Collection)
Update (July 2016): Beyond Thunderdome is presently for sale.


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