Only the weather can stop Alan Brierty’s Reichel-Pugh 62 Limit from smashing the race record in this weekend’s Redink Homes Geraldton Ocean Classic. The international racer, fresh from breaking the Fremantle to Bali Race record, has the speed and crew to displace the water-ballasted Volvo 60 round-the-world competitor Elle Racing from the record books. Elle Racing, skippered by Adrienne Cahalan, completed the course in 17 hours 18 minutes and 43 seconds in 1996.
This will be the 43rd edition of the race, which is conducted by South of Perth Yacht Club on a 221 nautical mile course starting off Fremantle, rounding Rottnest Island, then heading 200 nm north to Geraldton. The demanding return race back to Fremantle is held on the following weekend. The races are the first two heats of the Evolution Sails Blue Water Series.
Ironically, a large proportion of Limit’s crew is made up of the crew of General Lee, the relatively tiny all-carbon 37-footer that broke the conventionally-ballasted record in sensational fashion last year. General Lee’s time of 18 hours 18 minutes and 33 seconds is under severe threat from Limit.
Limit helmsman and General Lee co-owner Paul Eldrid recalled his first ocean race, the Geraldton Race in 1990 aboard Brierty’s IOR Farr 40 Once a Jolly Swagman, which started a partnership between the trim, fresh-faced World Mirror Champion and the no-nonsense entrepreneur that has seen them sail together all over the world. Incidentally, Once a Jolly Swagman won overall honours in the 1990 race.
Whilst Limit’s line honours and race record prospects seem little more than a formality, the battle for handicap honours is wide open. Limit, Gary McNally’s newly IRC-optimised GP42 Black Betty and Garth Curran’s veteran Inglis 58 Walk on the Wild Side will be favoured by a hard downwind race. Trevor Taylor’s champion Marten 49 Optimus Prime will resume its long-running feud with Phil Childs’ Farr 49 Knee Deep, with John Moore’s Marten 49 Charlotte planning to get into the act. These three yachts will be hoping for non-planing conditions, to prevent the lighter yachts skipping away.
If the wind increases later in the race, the lower rating yachts may be favoured, with Jaffa, Finistere, R2D2 and Knot Dreaming, or even the double-handed entries Plus 16 and Kraken, coming into contention for overall handicap honours. The current forecast of light breezes for Friday afternoon, followed by a windy night and moderate Saturday, could assist the smaller yachts.
The race starts at 1.30 on Friday afternoon, and North Mole offers a good vantage point for spectators.
In a confirmation of the popularity of the tiered structure of ocean racing, East Fremantle Yacht Club’s Cape Vlamingh Race on Saturday has attracted a fleet of 33 yachts. Yachts competing in the Archambault Offshore Series will complete a 39 nautical mile course clockwise around Rottnest Island, whilst the Sailing Products Australia Coastal Cup and Double-Handed fleets will sail a 23 nm course in Gage Roads.