Navigating the Australian nightmare

Published on January 14th, 2020

With Scuttlebutt HQ in California, the threat of brushfires is never far away. You get used to it, you prepare for it, but that doesn’t minimize it, and despite our familiarity, what Australia is enduring remains mind-blowing.

Enduring the worst wildfires seen in decades, the country has fires in every state. There’s been nearly 30 deaths nationwide, with New South Wales alone having more than 3,000 homes destroyed or damaged. Shocking!

Some of Australia’s largest cities have also been affected, including Sydney and Melbourne where structure damage and thick plumes of smoke have blanketed the urban center. It is also in these areas where the sport of sailing is navigating the nightmare.

After a warm-up race for the 2019 Sydney Hobart Race on Sydney Harbor was cancelled, and the start of the 628nm classic threatened, it is now the competitions on Melbourne’s Port Phillips Bay that are being impacted.

The 2020 Australian Youth Championships were forced to cancel the second half of the event this week when a lack of wind and smoke from the bushfires prevented sailing.

“The EPA air quality was at the upper end of the Poor rating,” said Australian Sailing Regatta Manager Lesley Fasala. “While we are aware of the sailors we already know have asthma or health issues, we also have to consider some people may have adverse reactions that we don’t know about.”

Victoria State Coach and two time Gold Medallist Malcolm Page offered some perspective on the smoky conditions. “A lot of Australians are having a hard time at the moment and for racing to be [abandoned] for this reason is very minor. It’s a sad situation.”

Now the proximity of the 2020 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 World Championships, to be held February 10-15 near some of the bushfires currently burning, will continue this health hazard.

As well as supporting individual sailor’s efforts, the international class association is looking at ways to support organizations fighting fires and caring for those affected by loss, and will soon announce a fundraising campaign.

“We know by running a major event we’re possibly asking a lot from volunteers and others who may have priorities elsewhere,” notes Australian 9er President Chris Manton. “We are sensitive to this fact and alongside international class representatives we are looking at ways to give back to the local Geelong and Australian community.”

Australian 49er sailor Joel Turner is promoting a Facebook Red Cross fundraiser called ‘International sailors can help Australians who are struggling’. He says, “Thousands of Australians are suffering and here we are going sailing in Geelong and devastation is only a couple hundred kilometres away. Let’s help the locals get through this tough time.”

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