At the exact moment that race leader Indian crossed the South Mole finish line in Fremantle, the tail ender Vision was rounding the turn boat in Bunbury Harbour. There is no disgrace in this statistic – Indian is a 47-foot, carbon fibre ocean greyhound using the very latest technology while Vision is a fiberglass 27-foot Spacesailer 27, identical to the yacht sailed to Britain and back by John Woodhouse. In technological terms, the two yachts are worlds apart. In practical terms, it is a reminder about how accessible the sport of ocean racing has become. There is no doubt that the big budget boats attract most of the attention (just look at the Sydney to Hobart race!) but with today’s handicapping systems and safety features, ocean racing yachts costing no more than a small car can still enjoy the sport and be competitive.
Indian’s performance was remarkable. Starting in Fremantle at 6pm on Friday she rounded the Bunbury mark soon after 3am on Saturday and was back in Fremantle again before midday, setting a new race record at an average speed of more than 9 ½ knots, or 19 kilometres per hour.
Turning in Bunbury in close company with noted downwind flyer Walk on the Wild Side, an Inglis 58, many expected Garth Curran’s big boat to blow away Craig Carter’s Indian, but with easterlies and north easterlies on the way home, it was Indian which reigned supreme. The two yachts were practically joined at the hip as they passed the last of the southbound yachts near Preston Beach, but at Dawesville both headed away from the coast and in less than an hour Indian established a match winning break. Sailing very close to the Stragglers, Indian enjoyed better pressure and according to their GPS trackers was at times some nearly three knots faster than Walk on the Wild Side, which sailed a more conservative course.
In the end, Wild Side had to be content with first place on YAH handicap and second on IRC, which given her IRC rating was a very creditable result.
Saturday afternoon was full of drama. Winds freshened quickly from the north east, and a call from AMSA about a personal EPIRB activation had the race management team on edge. It was quickly established that it was an accidental activation but served as a stark reminder that sound rescue response protocols are a necessity in this sport. Not long afterwards, a radio call from Kraken, sailing in the double handed division, reported strong winds of 30 knots with gusts up to 40 knots. The information was immediately relayed to the remainder of the fleet.
Tim Harrison wisely decided to return to the security of Bunbury Harbour, so the gallant little Vision was the first retirement from the race. Lyn Powell and Ian Whitehead also withdrew, dropping all sail and motoring back to Fremantle through Challenger Passage. Graeme Cole, in the Archambault 35 Phantom, retired and predictably a number of double handers also decided to stop racing in the interests of safety. Low Flying Duck, Dart Vader and Cutty Wren all retired and returned safely to Fremantle.
By 6pm the strong winds dissipated and yachts still at sea went from being belted to being becalmed. Alison Stock and Brad Skeggs, sailing Selkie, were inching northward at less than 4 knots at 6pm. By 7pm they were hardly moving and at 7:40pm the boat was actually drifting back towards Bunbury for a short time. To their credit, the pair persisted, finally picking up a light south easterly at 8:30pm and finishing at 1:20am on Sunday. They were third on both handicapping systems behind Matt Dickmann’s Fifty Four and winner Kraken, sailed by Todd Giraudo, which finished in amongst fully crewed forty footers.
The weather played a critical part in the fortunes of various yachts. Clearly the big boats benefited from being home before the big blast arrived with its attendant rain squalls, but equally the smallest yachts in the fleet had to deal with the “double whammy” – reducing to storm sails during the afternoon squalls and then trying to keep their craft moving when the breeze shut down altogether as darkness fell.
- Bernie Kaaks