Bigger and better

SKANDIA GEELONG REGATTA

Skandia Geelong Week 2008 prides itself on encompassing a broad range of sailing craft, from the latest carbon hulled TP 52s to marine ply Bluebird 22s. This year was no exception.

At the top end of the fleet, the Audi Series kicked proceedings off for Divisions 1, 2 and 3. The buzz in Division 1 was created by the three TP52 yachts, Cougar II, Quest and Wot Yot, the latter two owners enjoying their first Skandia Geelong Week (SGW) experience.

In a quality 27-boat fleet, the field also featured SGW inductee Karl Kwok’s Hong Kong Reichel/Pugh 45 Beau Geste. Kwok’s elite crew contained America’s Cup sailors, so keen was he to win. Added to the buzz were new boats from two Melbourne sailing identities with Bruce Taylor's Caprice 40 Chutzpah and Chris Dare's Corby 49 Flirt. The American TP52s aroused the most interest though and went on to take the podium positions.

Royal Yacht Club of Victoria hosted the first four windward/leeward races of the Audi Series held over two days off Williamstown. Next came the 34.3 nautical mile Passage Race from Williamstown to Geelong which had more than 200 cruising boats dominating the 350-yacht fleet.

Once in Geelong, the Royal Geelong Yacht Club (RGYC) hosted the remainder of the windward/leeward Audi Series for the three Divisions on Corio Bay.

Bob Steel’s Quest, from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Sydney, was impressive from day one and went on to win. Steered by skipper Jamie MacPhail with North Sails Julian Plante calling tactics, Quest won the first three and last two races with a pair of second’s in between, but was disqualified from Race 2 following a protest.

Steel said afterwards: ‘We were a bit lucky to carry our disqualification. We were living with a bit of apprehension with the Passage Race, because it could have been a small boat race.’

It nearly was. The forecast was for light northerlies. Just after the start though, the nor-west breeze filled in to around 18 knots. Halfway down the course, pressure dwindled as the sea breeze fought the land breeze which slowed progress and only a few missed falling into the holes down the course.

The biggest yacht in the fleet, the 98ft Skandia (Grant Wharington), the line honour’s winner, managed to keep moving, albeit slowly at times. Victorian Wharington commented: ‘We didn’t get the three lemons, we got down to around 0.8 knots of boat speed, but we kept moving.’ The same happened for Quest, which was second over the line and second overall to Beau Geste, which had a good race.

‘We had a good run coming down. We stayed well left of the course at the start ‘ we wanted to get clear air. We managed to avoid all the stops. We kept moving the whole time,’ Karl Kwok said.

‘The crew sailed very well. We stayed away from the forecast holes. We were lucky we had such good weather. I’ve never seen so many boats on a start; nothing like it before. It was unbelievable. My crew (including America’s Cuppers Mark Bradford steering and Gavin Brady calling tactics) did a very good job. This is my first time (at SGW). I definitely want to come back,’ he said.

Back on Quest, Steel praised his crew. ‘The crew did a great job, made no mistakes. Jamie and Julian did a great job. The competition was strong, especially with the other two TPs. We also had good tussles with Beau Geste and Living Doll,’ (Michael Hiatt’s Cookson 50) ‘ fourth and fifth placed overall respectively.

Thrilled with his impressive nine-point triumph over Sandringham Yacht Club entry Cougar II (Alan Whiteley) and fellow CYCA boat, Wot Yot (Graeme Wood), Steel said: ‘You can’t afford to make mistakes at regattas of this level. You need to have a well-prepared boat and crew.

‘It was good to have such close racing with the other two TPs and to come out on top. I’m also very pleased to co-lead the pointscore for the Audi IRC Championship.’

Up until the final day, Wot Yot had filled second place on the scoreboard, but it was the third TP, Cougar II, that came home strongly to steal second place. Wot Yot finished third overall on countback to Cougar II.

‘We were very lucky to even start the last race. Just before the start we found a 1.5m tear in our mainsail. We did a quick repair with sticky-back tape. We were lucky to be here at all after fracturing our chainplate in the Hobart race. Thommo (crew Andrew Thompson) did a great job to get us here,’ said a contented Whiteley.

‘What made the series for us having the other two TPs here. We’ve only been in the water for five months; Quest and Wot Yot have been sailing longer, so racing them lifted our skills. It was great racing,’ he said.

Wood enjoyed the competition too. ‘Yes, I’m enjoying my first time at this regatta very much. We had an interesting start in the Passage Race though ‘ we were On Course Side, so had to go back with great difficulty and start again,’ he said, referring to having to sail back through the 361-strong fleet to re-start.

‘It wasn’t part of any plan we had, or any plan I heard about anyway,’ the jocular Wood said. ‘After that, we were on fire! We sailed over the top of Cougar II (the third TP52 in the fleet) and kept going. We didn’t park at all; just kept the boat going the whole way.’

Wot Yot’s luck ran out. The last race of the series sealed the Wot Yot crew’s fate when a massive wind shift arrived seconds before the start. Sean Kirkjian, tactician, described their day: ‘We were very happy with our earlier race ‘ it was a normal shifty day.

‘Because of the wind shift in the last race, we reached back and forwards to the first mark and fell behind. I tried everything to get us back into the race, but everything I suggested backfired!’

Supermaxi Skandia expectedly took line honours in all but Races 2 and 3, which it did not compete in due to a rigging problem that had to be rectified in time for the Passage Race.

In Division 2 of the Audi Series, confusion mounted when second to fifth places overall changed after everyone had celebrated. Originally, the top three in the 20-boat fleet were Philosophers Club, a Sydney 36CR owned and skippered by champion skiff sailor Peter Sorensen (NSW), Dick Fidock’s Beneteau 40.7 As Good As It Gets (SA) and Patrice Six, Tony Kirby’s X-41 (NSW).

All that changed. It transpired that Grant Botica (Executive Decision) and Robert Hick (Toecutter) had not been recorded as finishers in the final race. Once rectified, Botica’s Adams 10 claimed second overall and Hick’s self-designed 30 footer moved into fourth place.

Fidock was relegated to third. His disappointment was palpable. The South Australian, a regular at Skandia Geelong Week, had announced he was retiring from yacht racing, and thought second place was a great note to go out on. It was worse for Kirby, shoved off the podium and down into fifth place. However, he did take home a trophy.

Combining with Quest and Wot Yot, Patrice Six made up the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia team for the Teams Trophy, which they won from Sandringham YC and the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.

In the 10-boat Division 3, SYC members Mike and Mark Welsh sailed their Lidgard 36 Alien to a stunning overall victory, winning six of seven races.

Brad Skeggs’ Beneteau 34.7 Palandri Mind’s Eye came off second best, 10 points adrift of the winner, with Bruce McCraken’s Beneteau 36.7 Leeto third, a further three points behind.

Although they looked set for the podium early on, John Lindholm’s Dr Unc had to settle for fourth overall, only one point outside the money, while Gordon Mather’s Revenge, a Carter 33 seen many times at Skandia Geelong Week, and a podium placer in previous years finished fifth overall.

Quest and Philosophers Clubshare Audi IRC Championship lead

Division 1 and 2 Audi Series winners, Quest and Philosophers Club, share a joint lead in the prestigious Audi IRC Championship, the Audi Series at Skandia Geelong Week being the opening event.

When the Audi IRC Championship scores were tallied, the friends found they were tied for the leadership with three events of the series remaining. The win entitles the pair to hoist their orange leadership flags aboard their respective yachts.

‘Sorro used to be my friend, but we’re sworn enemies now,’ Steel laughed. ‘Actually, we’re very pleased with ourselves. We’re doing all the Audi Championship events (Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta in March, Audi Sydney Gold Coast in July and Audi Hamilton Island Race Week in August) and have our eye on the prize,’ said Steel, a first-timer at SGW.

Responding to Steel’s comments, Sorensen said: ‘I don’t like him anymore either. I want to win the Audi Championship and get my hands on a brand new Audi Q7 ‘ I’m gonna win that car.’

‘We aimed for this Audi win. I spent some of my superannuation on buying a new Sydney 36CR in December which I’ve made some changes to. I added some of the best sailors out there including some skiff mates, Chris Cleary, Tony Hannan and Peter McIntyre.

‘I trucked Philosophers Club here all the way from Sydney and we won ‘ we smashed them. Wait till the next regatta. We’ll be twice as fast because we’ll be more used to the boat, and we’re looking forward to that,’ said the affable solicitor.

‘We’re also looking forward to sailing at Skandia Geelong Week again next year. It just seems to be getting bigger and more competitive. It’s great fun, a great place to come,’ Sorensen said.

Cruising down to Geelong

Light winds caressed the diverse 200-boat cruising fleet on its 34 miler from Geelong to Williamstown on Australia Day with the holiday racers enjoying light spinnaker work.

Geelong boats took first and second place in Cruising With Spinnaker Division One, Ian Watson’s Farr 11.6 Nimrod II winning on handicap ahead of fellow Royal Geelong Yacht Club member Jeff Wolff’s Jeanneau Odyssey 45 Bad Influence while Cousin It, an Adams 10 from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, posted a third on handicap.

In Division Two, Kim Beveridge’s Beneteau 38 Firefox proved her worth under spinnaker in the light breeze, the Sandringham boat taking first place ahead of San Miguel skippered by Russell Walton and David Painter’s Farr 1104 Bandwagon.

Smaller boats made the most of an enjoyable race, adding their colourful spinnakers to the vast collection making their way across Port Phillip to Corio Bay. David Wallace and his crew on Drambuie, a Bluebird 22, were delighted with a first place on handicap, crossing the line in front of second placegetter Richard Nichols’ Hall 32 Shoestring with barely a minute to spare. Another Bluebird 22, Paramour, skippered by Ivan Knight, took third place in Division Three.

In the Non-Spinnaker Cruising Division, Ray Goodwin steered his Columbia 27 Lucky Lady to a win a handicap victory from Max Nankervis and his Viking Exocet which crossed the line well ahead of the third-placed Bolle, helmed by Jan Van Hulsan.

With the passage race over, many Cruising Division boats continued to enjoy the Skandia Geelong Week regatta atmosphere and more racing on Corio Bay during the Sunday and Monday.

Skandia Geelong Week chairman John Kint thanked all involved for a successful event. ‘Next year it will be even bigger, better and longer. We’re adding an extra day at the Geelong end to make it a five-day regatta,’ he informed the crowd.

Royal Geelong commodore Graeme Ritchie added: ‘The volunteers are something special. They have done the event and the City of Geelong proud again. Without them, this event wouldn’t happen.’

Race organisers were also happy. Said principal race officer Denis Thompson: ‘With a record number of boats in so many classes and divisions it was a very complex series. It went relatively smoothly; we had a few hiccups but were able to recover. There are a lot of happy sailors out there. It was good fun.’

On board Hugo Boss with Peter Rendle.

Needing a ride at the last minute proved fortuitous, thanks to an email sent to event organiser Doug Jarvis. He suggested I contact Polly Dawson, tour manager of the Volvo 60 Hugo Boss II. They were sailing in the passage race and were short of crew.

I made the call and presto my ride was secured. Hugo Boss II is registered in Portsmouth UK, my home town, and was originally Assa Abloy, the Swedish entry in the Volvo Around the World Race that finished second with UK skipper Neil Mcdonald in charge. These days, the yacht is owned by Alex Thompson who runs Alex Thompson Racing, based in Gosport, UK. Alex is currently racing around the world with Australian Andrew Cape aboard the brand new Hugo Boss, an open 60.

After meeting skipper Andy Tourell and permanent crew members Will Palmer, Robin Hilton, Liam Cole and Polly Dawson, we motored towards the start from our mooring at Melbourne’s new Dockland’s marina. The massive fleet of over 350 yachts were jostling for positions in the light 5-8 knot breeze south-east of Williamstown on Port Phillip Bay. Two starts lines about 200 metres apart separated the fleet but skippers had to be alert at all times. The preparatory gun fired but due to a misunderstanding between the UK and Australian starting procedures, we missed the start by a large margin.

The breeze was beginning to increase and at least we had relatively clear air as the mass of sails set off on a reach to the first mark of the course. Hugo Boss II was making the most of its massive asymmetric spinnaker. Our overall waterline was making a big impression and we were soon catching the slower yachts that had left us behind at the start.

The regular crew were working hard trimming the main and asymmetric with the help of volunteer grinders including the writer, not my favourite job on a boat. We could clearly see Skandia ahead and we felt comfortable with our position. The Volvo 60 is not a light boat and it really does not relish light conditions. Designed for downwind runs in the Southern Ocean, we were struggling for boat speed in the soft, 8-10 knots of breeze. We had overtaken a considerable number of our competitors and were holding our own against the latest 50ft lightweight flyers.

However with the breeze now coming from directly behind, we were having to constantly jibe with massive angles making forward progress very difficult and now the breeze had decided to drop out as we headed for the channel markers that lead the way to Geelong.

While we never slowed to a complete halt, we were close to 1-2 knots of boat speed for over an hour, each jibe taking us away from our final destination. Andy’s job on the helm was particularly difficult. We had to keep the number of jibes to a minimum to maintain some boat speed but that meant sailing to the edges of the course where the breeze was even lighter.

Fortunately, the sun was shining and this was a day to improve our suntans. By now the majority of the fleet behind us had raised their conventional-rigged spinnakers, making a kaleidoscope of colour which unfortunately was getting closer and closer. Their square kites allowed them to sail in a straight line to the finish and bring a slight increase in breeze with them. Soon we were in the middle of a mass of yachts and sails. There was nothing we could do but to watch each one sail by us, unable to create enough boat speed to keep up.

Eventually after 5 hours 23 minutes and 45 seconds, we crossed the finishing line off the Royal Geelong Yacht Club’s marina, 38 seconds ahead of Gusto an Open 60. We had finished seventh over the line in our 30-boat division, but far too slowly to avoid the wooden spoon. Not to worry, the festivities were already in full swing at the yacht club.

The day could not be complete without a grounding and sure enough our allocated mooring put us firmly on the bricks. With a falling tide, we obviously had to move and it was none other than Grant Wharington, the owner of the maxi Skandia, who offered to help us move on to the marina’s side jetty. Perhaps it was Grant’s own experience of sailing Volvo 60s that prompted the camaraderie. A thankful Andrew Taurell promised ‘Wharro’ a beer at the bar.

At the yacht club, we were able to chat about the race and from all accounts the ‘Poms’ had enjoyed the Geelong experience immensely. During our post-race talks, I asked tour manager Polly Dawson what was ahead for the globetrotting 60. ‘The ongoing schedule for the yacht is she will be shipped back from Melbourne to the UK, where it will undergo a short refit.”

Then the boat would go to the Med for the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix followed by Kiel Week; from there on to Sandhamn, near Stockholm, to take part in the Eurocard Round Gotlund Race.

“We will possibly take the yacht over to St Petersburg, and then back to the Med for the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Sardinia. From then on it is a bit up in the air at the moment! ‘

My next question was ‘how do I become part of the crew’’ There was no reply.

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