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MY INCREDIBLE LIFE AS A BLIND MAN ... AND YES, I'VE SAILED THE SYDNEY-HOBART. TWICE.


Old photo of sailing boat
The crew on Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

Meet David Hume: an incredible man who has sailed the Sydney-Hobart not once but twice, headed a rock band and been a popular radio and footy announcer. And he has done all of this - and much more - despite being blind from birth. Here, in an exclusive edited extract from his book Blind Without Barriers David writes about his passion for yachting - and how he doesn't ever let his disability hinder his magnificent life.


Yachting just grabbed my ardour. Where else can a sportsman use the elements to challenge the elements?


Sometimes one might be struggling with being becalmed: another time wrestling with violence. Where else under the whim of the weather is one expected to make split-second decisions while working as a team in a costly craft?


Moreover, where else can Mother Nature still utterly destroy such sophisticated technology as an ocean racer? Perhaps strangely even a person as blind as me can be completely absorbed in the adrenaline rush of sailing.


It might well be that my rush is even greater than for my sighted crew for my risk is greater. I put that to the test. Though I had moved to Victoria and become a husband and father, yachting still plucked at my spirit.


Going off-shore yachting was but a fleeting distraction while I strove to establish David Hume & Associates. That changed when I joined PKF; security again gave me the chance to invest in sailing.


Although for some illogical reason racing a Seaway yacht was no longer captivating. Perhaps this waning of interest in smaller yachts sprang from a growing friendship with Mike Epstein, a local psychiatrist.


Our conversations often turned to sailing dreams and thrills. Many were fed by stories of blue water classics. Then one day quite simultaneously the key question came to us both: ‘Why do we just dream? Shouldn’t we do something about turning dreams to reality?’ We did.



To sail our fantasies we financed a Farr 37 racer cruiser and prepared a crew for the 50th anniversary of the 628 nautical mile Sydney to Hobart Rolex Classic.


This race, widely regarded as one of the world’s most taxing, attracts a range of yachts including international ‘maxis’. Our target was the Tattersall’s Cup, a silver chalice decorated with mermaids that is presented to the handicap winner.


First over the line honour in Hobart’s Derwent River is normally commandeered by the big ‘maxis’. Of course, I knew Greg Melody would be over the moon with my change of tack. I was also to fulfil my promise to him.


Greg was renowned for his flippant comments and when he inspected our new purchase he remarked: ‘Gees, for a blind bloke and psycho as her owners what else could you call her?’ ‘What?’ I asked. ‘Out of Sight Out of Mind’, he grinned mischievously.


So that became the name of our 11.28 metre vessel which was often shortened to just Out of Sight. Our immediate task was to recruit a crew of nine.


Blind man with guide dog; black and white image
David Hume as a young man

Mike would be navigator plus I still had the nucleus of my Seaway crew. They were all experienced dingy sailors and now I needed an infusion of seasoned ocean sailors. I found my extras among Keith Farfor’s team that had sailed in the Admiral’s Cup off England in 1979; that was the terrible race when 18 died in the freak weather of the Fastnet Leg.


Eventually a skeleton crew took Out of Sight to Sydney where all the team gathered for some serious practice of manoeuvres on the beautiful harbour. These waters held many useful memories from my novice sailing days.


We rose early on Boxing Day to clear skies, sunshine and a moderate north easterly breeze, certainly no portent to what we would meet down the coast. Out on the water I recall thinking, ‘This is magnificent but absolute chaos on blue water under blue skies.’


It was an apt thought with 150 race entries almost impounded by hundreds of spectator and pleasure craft, all edging to get a prime view of the start. Many were persistently annoying competitors who were well aware of the rule that yachts must not be touched.


In fact, a crewman of Drake’s Prayer in the next year involuntarily touched Ragamuffin’s pulpit just before the start. In an ugly protest at the finish Drake’s Prayer was relegated from winner of the Tattersall’s Cup to 34th place getter. What with such stringent rules and penalties, crowding and jostling for position, tension on board erupted.


Mike described it best: ‘On the five-minute gun ringing in my ears I felt all hell had burst out.’ Crews galvanised into action jockeying for clear water and air. The clamour I will never forget: adrenaline-laden shouts, amid billowing, snapping sails, rattling tackle and winches, and creaking rigging as it took the strain.


black and white photos of a male toddler
David as a toddler

This was hell with cacophony to boot. And in all that turmoil I felt a glancing blow on my shoulder probably from the boom of Diamond Cutter as we came about. That the boats ran close was undeniable.


Judging the time to the line, holding a course, while looking into the eyes and pinched faces of opposing crews, sharpened our competitive instinct. Some crews mistimed their run and had to come around again to approach the starting line.


Some did infringe and I sharply remember their shouts of exacerbation and expletives as they were forced to complete 720 degree turns. Out of Sight ran sleekly and on the final gun Roger Jepsom, our starting helmsman, had her well positioned; we sprang sheets at the first mark and headed on a tight reach until the harbor Heads.


Then crew after crew sprang frantically to hoist their spinnakers, find a clear wind and get a march on other yachts. Pointing southeast we thought we were going to Centennial Dock, Hobart!


Ocean malevolence


On our first afternoon Out of Sight sped with a moderate northerly and following sea. We had moved out to sea in search of The Set, a fast-flowing current that would give Out of Sight another four knots.


Vic Kibby, our navigator, put her ‘right in the slot’. Our speed was amazing. By evening, however, the wind backed south and we dropped our spinnaker. At night the wind strengthened to gale force by first light and we sailed with just a three jib.


Just before Bass Strait, storms began to lash us. On rounding Gabo Island Out of Sight was racked by contrary currents off the coast and massive rollers out of Bass Strait.


The sea became a witches’ cauldron of 60 knot winds and waves towering as high as 10 metres. We were rising and plunging every five seconds with water crashing over the deck. Even with our heavy wet-weather gear we were soaked to the skin and feeling very uncomfortable.


Hour after hour we rode this maelstrom testing our skills to just ‘hang in there’. Our blue water crewmen had done little sailing and began to pay the price.


Roger and Ian Elliot became frightfully seasick and hardly able. Vic was also afflicted but somehow continued to perform brilliantly. These three had gifted my dingy boys with expertise and confidence on blue water; now the boys sailed Out of Sight under terrible conditions with outstanding precision.


At the height of the storm all luck deserted me. A vicious gust hit Out of Sight as a huge cross-sea slammed into her and flung her into a corkscrew. One moment I was sitting on the high side and next I lay in the bottom of the boat semiconscious, up to my neck in water and blood streaming from my hand.


The crew put the boat back on keel, almost carried me down below and attended to my badly bruised and crushed thumb. It seems that in the knockdown my thumb was caught between the stanchion, which I was holding for balance, and the buckle of my life jacket; I had made a simple, silly error.


Then around 6 am while tiring of the threatening seas we were buoyed with a radio report. To our delight it said we were in overall second place on handicap. It was smiles all round and renewed energy, but both vanished soon after. Mike tried to start the engine to run our generator only to find the battery was dead.


No generator meant no lights, no radio, and no satellite navigation. I listened to the crew for over an hour as they mulled over alternatives and possibilities. But enough. I said with all the finality I could muster, ‘Many of us have families and we will be closing on the dangerous ‘Tassie’ coast at night … and with no chance of communication. We should lose the battle and live to win the war. Besides, we are flying blind … even for me!’


That 1984 Sydney to Hobart race went down in history as the most calamitous to date. Of 150 starting yachts, 104 did not finish due mostly to the treacherous weather and gales of over 70 knots. That 69 percent loss was not even exceeded by the tragic 1998 race in which six sailors died and fifty were plucked from the raging sea.


David Hume lives in Melbourne with his guide dog. To purchase Blind Without Barriers, visit www.davidhume.com.au or go to the amazon link here.


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