When more than 100 yachts begin the journey from Sydney Harbour to Hobart on Monday afternoon, aboard one of the boats will be a crew member who until November had no sailing experience and remains too scared to swim in deep ocean water.
Payal Pattanaik, a 31-year-old software engineer who emigrated from India to Australia in 2020, will sail with LawConnect — one of four 100-foot super maxis entered in the iconic race — after coming up trumps in a lucky dip.
Pattanaik is one of 20 LawConnect crew members set to sail approximately 1163 kilometres in the 77th edition of the race, potentially navigating huge waves, gusty winds and wild storms.
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“I think it will really be a very challenging experience because I’ve never seen big waves,” Pattanaik told Wide World of Sports.
“When we were having our training period we didn’t see very big waves; only light waves.
“So I really don’t know how it will be exactly with the big waves like you see in the movies. So I’m really afraid of that. I don’t know how I will react to that.
“Let’s see how it goes.
“I definitely don’t want to experience a storm during the race; I think that would be horrifying.”
Pattanaik was introduced to sailing as LawConnect trained for the Sydney to Hobart race for about two weeks across November and December.
She had never participated in any adventure sport, rather volleyball and basketball.
“I have a fear of the ocean … because when I see high tides or high waves I freak out,” Pattanaik said.
“So I’ve never been for a swim in the ocean because if I can’t see the horizon, or there are big waves in front of me, I panic. I panic a lot.
“I have to overcome that fear, for sure, and that’s why I want to challenge myself.”
North-easterly winds forecast to pick up over Tuesday and Wednesday are expected to favour the super maxis: LawConnect, the Andoo Comanche, Black Jack and Hamilton Island Wild Oats.
The biggest boats in the race are tipped to hurtle down the east coast of Australia and threaten the record.
The benchmark is one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds — a time posted in 2017 by LDV Comanche, now known as Andoo Comanche.
Pattanaik is tasked with capturing video for LawConnect’s live stream and being a “helping hand”.
She offers a stirring perspective.
“I think I should encourage people. If I can do it, anyone can do it,” Pattanaik said.
“It’s really good for your mental health because it boosts your confidence and you come out stronger.
“So, that’s why I want to try.
“These things are very overwhelming, really, and I never thought about experiencing this in my life.
“You are getting paid for everything. You just have to be there, and you get to experience this amazing journey, so I think it’s really great to have an opportunity like this.”
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