Big boat race report, March 1 2015 - the sense of caution, the danger of keenness, the value of size and a day for the Irish..........
It was hot, humid and still as we rigged; the boat’s decks were baking, and northeaster barely reaching into the Bay.
But, before the start, a north-easter seemed to have settled. But it wasn’t; it was fresh and then dead calm, northeast and then north west. And all the while a southerly was on its way, predicted for ~3.30pm, with a sharp front.
Corinna won the start, but Barry’s new Northshore 38 outsped and outpointed all the smaller boats; for us she was out-of-sight by the first mark. Fast and beautifully sailed.
The first leg was was a work, but we were just ghosting along, trying to avoid the calm patches. T&T overcame a poor stat to reach the mark first of the small boats; then the wind in that patch of the Harbour - off Point Piper - disappeared. Corinna and T&T were becalmed, and in danger of being swept by the tide back onto the mark. We managed to avoid that and to pick up some breeze which took us to Taylor’s Bay, Corinna now ahead, and Umbakumba a country mile back, most disadvantaged by the calm at the Point.
It wasn’t to stay that way. Corinna and T&T worked across the Harbour towards Neilson Park, Corinna sailing much higher, T&T a little faster. T&T was forced, by the eastern shore, to tack north first; Corinna was able to continue further east and fell into the biggest ‘hole’ (calm) of the season. Twenty minutes later, T&T rounded the top mark a country mile ahead, Corinna just moving. Umbakumba had the tail ender’s advantage of seeing others’ problems and sailed over the top of Corinna, leaving her well behind.
We then had a long run to Shark Island; and Umbakumba did much the best, sailing low, finding the best wind, easily passing T&T. Now Corinna had the tai lender’s advantage, and closed on us both.
But Umbakumba had come through from the back, and she held her lead to round the Shark island mark, well in front of the three small boats.
A really big turnaround; beautiful sailing.
And the drama was still to come. The wind was still light northerly as T&T gybed for home, 150m behind Umbakumba. The sunny day had become cloudy, and storm clouds were growing in the south and west. The 18-footers were last seen racing under spinnaker, further north; conditions were light. But it was 3.30pm, and the front was due. We headed for Clarke Island and T&T pared the lead away, both of us sailing high - the fastest route, provided the northerly held to the end. But it took us just south of Clarke Island, with a southerly threatening. We were too caught up in the race to notice.
Behind us, maybe 200m, Corinna followed, but sailed low, more southerly, showing her skipper’s cautious bet that the southerly would come in before the race was done.
As we closed on the finish line, T&T hovered close to Umbakumba, hoping to force a last-minute mistake. And it seemed to come. Suddenly, Umbakumba rounded up and stalled; on T&T we felt the beginnings of the southerly, which had bothered Umbakumba, but we avoided rounding up and dived for the line. We were barely a boat’s length from the green pole at the south end of Clarke Island; surely we could get there and win the small boat ‘race’ after all.
But the first, light southerly puffs were followed by a single fierce gust - well over 40 knots (Seabreeze showed 48 knots). T&T spun away, heeling and out of control, straight into the rocks of the Island. Crunch and bump; not too bad as we were so close we had no time to accelerate. But we were stuck, buffeted against the rocks, slewing and tipping.
Umbakumba crossed the line in survival mode, the first of the small boats; Corinna’s cautious approach left her plenty of room to clear the Island, and she made a game finish.
T&T was swiftly rescued by Graham and his crew. The Northshore 38 had brought them home so much ahead that they had time to bring out a power boat and throw Mat and me a line. Mat fixed it to the bow; Graham applied power and - more scrapes - we were off, uninjured, the boat holding together. After a long, rough tow into Double Bay, we moored safely, just as the heavens opened.
I had been so keen for the win that I let the southerly front hit us when we were only 20m from a a lee shore (Clarke Island).
Judging by the bumps, there will be some superficial damage to the keel. And the belting during the tow had shifted the base of the mast 6 inches to port. Some fixing to be done.
In the meantime:
- Thank you to Graham and crew for that tow! And well sailed.
- Thank you Doug for the start
- Congratulations to Mike and Gerry, DBSC’s Irish, for Umbakumba’s small boat win. Another 15 seconds and T&T would have ….
Across the line:
- Northshore 38
T&T was DNF.
On land, I asked what had happened to the 18s, so vulnerable with their huge rigs.
‘Shortened course’ I was told; home just in time.
Quite a day