Tahlia Zaloumis spoke with Barry Schipplock, six-time Sydney to Hobart sailor and ‘Matrix’ crew member, on his passion for yachting and an introduction to sports medicine issues associated with the sport.

74 years on, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is renowned as one of the premier yacht races in the world and is an institution in the Australian sporting calendar. Held annually on Boxing Day, this four-day race has more than 100 yachts competing and attracts sailors from across the globe.

Part of the allure of the Sydney to Hobart Race are the challenging weather conditions around the southern coast of Australia, not to mention the stiff competition out on the water.

Barry Schipplock has sailed this race six times after getting into the sport later in his life. He knew once he started sailing lessons, the iconic race was something he wanted to complete.

“I was interested in sailing and it was something I’ve always wanted to do. One day, I really wanted to do Sydney to Hobart; like so many sailors I felt that it was one race I had to do.”

Before entering the race, Schipplock trained endlessly and entered in smaller races, eventually progressing to longer offshore races.

He got involved as much as he could; if there was a race on, Schipplock would go down and compete. With the experience of both short and long races, Schipplock would start using these as a training launchpad for Sydney to Hobart.  

“I’ve been sailing now for 30 years. Once I took sailing lessons, I just got hooked in. I like the challenges of long and short races; I’ve done Sydney to Gold Coast around 11 times and I knew I was ready for Sydney to Hobart.”

Schipplock first competed in the iconic race in 1997, where he and his crew on the yacht, Icefire, placed 14th in their first major race. It wasn’t until the following year where he and his crew felt the full wrath of the weather conditions.

“In ’97, the conditions and everything were just perfect— I didn’t quite understand the fuss over the race. In ’98, I was aboard the yacht, She II, when the storm hit. Our steering broke in the middle of the storm and everything was suddenly so different, but we got through it.”

During day two of the race in 1998, crews were subjected to winds in excess of 65 knots and gusts of up to 80 knots (above 150 kilometres per hour). Tragically, six lives were lost, with five yachts sunk.

Despite the events of the race in 1998, Schipplock decided to enter in the race again the following year.

“It was important that I didn’t let that experience affect me and my racing; I needed to keep pushing forward.

“For the race in 1999, I graduated up to crewing on the maxi yacht, Marchioness, and we acheived 2nd place on handicap.”

Since joining Matrix in 2015, Barry and the crew have gained more knowledge and skill with each race they have entered. This has allowed them to adapt their preparation methods for each race, as well as their general approach during races to ensure they get the best performance out of the whole crew.

Sailing can be very demanding on the body. Particularly for multi-day races, it is vital for crew to be both physically and mentally fit. In planning for each race, the crew meets to ensure they have the right nutrition and sleep schedules to help them get through and perform at their best.

“We have a crew of 10 and ensure we always have enough people to steer the boat. There’s six on the boat that are drivers and we make sure we have two resting at all times. Depending on the weather, we cycle between drivers every 20-30 minutes because it can get quite exhausting.”

Schipplock and the crew also cycle their sleeping and eating times. This helps all members get a break which helps reduce the risk of injury and gives them a chance to replenish their energy for when they are cycled back on.

“In long races, we are split into two watches: one racing the boat, while the other watch is resting. We have three hours on and three hours off; this is our sleeping pattern and incorporates our eating times too. This means one of half of the crew will have dinner before going on deck and the other watch will have dinner after they come off deck.”

During sleep periods, the crew often keep their wet weather gear on as they may be called to assist on deck at any time.

“The first night on the boat is the hardest to sleep, but after that, your body becomes exhausted and rest comes easy. But you do need to keep all your gear close incase you need to be back on deck.”

Nutrition is equally important. The crew of the Matrix get their food prepared from a retirement village, supplied to them by the owner of the boat. A nutritionist works at this retirement village and they plan and prepare food to satisfy the crew’s nutritional needs. The meals are then sealed in cryovac vacuum bags and are frozen so they are ready to take onboard.

These frozen meals include a protein (generally chicken or beef) and carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, noodles, veggies) to help fuel them in heated moments of the race. The pre-prepared meals also help to keep dinner-time simple for all people aboard.

“We pack breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for in-between. Our snacks can be a boiled egg, steamed potatoes or fruit — mostly things we can eat with one hand.”

“We have our meals heated in a water bath. We cut off the top of the vacuum bag and eat it straight from there.”

To go along with their food, an ample supply of water is stored on the yacht in a 250 litre tank. Being hydrated in any sport is vital for performance. Each member of the crew aims to drink 4 litres per day, as it is very easy to become dehydrated.

“We aim for one litre for every 3 hours on deck and we all try to be alert for any dehydration symptoms.”

Aside from paying careful attention to sleep, nutrition and hydration, Schipplock and the crew have been doing regular strength training to ensure their physical fitness is up to speed.

“The idea came from a PT who joined our crew. He suggested it could improve our performance and our strength. We now exercise three times a week focusing on weights and resistance, which helps with our performance in other races as well.”

Implementing training gives the team a chance to not only push their physical limits, but also improve their skills and mobility for future races.

For their training, the crew of Matrix enter in a full schedule of races yearly, allowing the team to get used to nights on the boat and allow plenty of opportunity to work more effectively together.

“We have a race program up here in Brisbane that includes four long duration races each month in the lead-up to Sydney to Hobart. These are day-night races which helps our crew get back into racing for a long duration.”

While the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race can be draining both physically and mentally, Schipplock appreciates the challenge the race brings to him and the crew. He stresses that anyone who is passionate about sailing or has competed in races before, should do the Sydney to Hobart race at least once.

“It’s a race that you have to do, and you know yourself when you’re ready. It’s not something you can jump straight into, so challenge yourself with other races first.”

To read ‘Sailing and sports medicine: a literature review’ click here

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