Sydney to Hobart as you’ve never seen it: below deck on a racing yacht

There’s no door and not even a seat on the toilet, the kitchen consists of a small gas-powered stove and if you get a chance to sleep, it’s at 30 degrees in a tiny bunk bed the size of a cupboard.

This isn’t a horribly under-resourced prison, but the stark reality of life beneath decks for sailors contesting the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

Wizard,formerly Giacomo, which was the overall winner of last year’s race,is a 70-footer built for speed –which means no unnecessary weight is allowed.

Wizard’s navigator Artie Means shows off the features below deck, including a the boat’s only toilet. No luxuries, not even a door. Photo: James Brickwood

Carbon fibre abounds beneath the deck of the $15 million to $20 million vessel, while crew members live off wet weather sailing gear, sleeping bags and a toothbrush.

When nature calls, sailorsventure into the bow and perch on the seatless”head” behind a makeshift pull down curtain –a dangerous pursuit given the hull of Wizard could crash into a wave at any moment.

“That’s the least of our concerns,” navigator Artie Means said.”It’s yacht racing, it’s not comfortable.”

Especially for Means who will be stationed beneath the deck for the majority of the race, staving off seasickness at every turn and taking responsibility for the direction the yacht pursues en route to Hobart.

It’s hot down there, and the lingering stench of diesel comes from the engine beneath the galley, which is turned on occasionally to aid the canting keel.

Means spends hours looking at a screen covered in lines and arrows,whichindicate weather fronts, plus wind speed and direction down ‘s east coast.

As navigator, Artie Means spends the majority of the race staring at screens on his work bench Photo: James Brickwood

His internet feed comes via satellite phone once they’re more than 10 miles offshore, at the pretty sum of $10 per megabyte. He needs it to track weather reports and other competitors and is also responsible for the three radio check-ins required per day with race organisers.Missing one of these incurs a 20-minute penalty.

Fortunately he’s a good sleeper. He’ll only ever leave his station for an hour at a time, during which he squeezes in a quick nap.

If he’s lucky he’ll get a bed. Eight crew members can sleep at any one time, but there are only six beds on each side of the boat and you must always sleep on the high side.

Like everything, Wizard’s kitchen is very compact. Photo: James Brickwood

That means two sailors must crawl into a sleepingbag on the floor.

It also means switching mid-sleep to a bed on the other side of the boat if the boat tacks or jibes, tilting the hull the opposite way.

“You have to make yourself sleep at some point because if you don’t, you get to the finish line and then you end up doing something stupid like running the boat onto the rocks,” Means said.

“It’s a constant trade off, you want to be awake as much as you can to get the performance out of the boat at the time but you can’t let yourself get so far behind the curve that you miss a radio check in, you miss a weather squall or anything significant.”

The Age