Black Jack leads fleet in Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race

As expected, Peter Harburg’s super maxi Black Jack made the best of the start in Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club’s (RPAYC) Club Marine Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race this afternoon.

Due to start at 1pm off Barrenjoey Headland, signalling the start of the chase for line and overall honours, the fleet was recalled when too many yachts were over the line early.

General Recall out of the way, it was a clean start the second time around, with 2021 Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours victor, Black Jack, leading the way. Behind the 100-footer representing Yacht Club de Monaco, was David Griffith’s JV62, Whisper and 2021 Sydney Hobart winner Ichi Ban (Matt Allen).

Ichi Ban has a target on her stern – Andrea Francolini pic

Two-handed entry, Speedwell, was around 15 minutes late to the start. Campbell Geeves and Olly Gill have work to do to catch up to their contemporaries.

A messy and lumpy sea in a 15-18 knot east/nor-easterly wind will have some wishing they hadn’t had lunch.

Black Jack, skippered by Mark Bradford, is loaded with talent, including America’s Cup sailors, Adam Beashel and Dean Phipps from New Zealand. Harburg’s yacht was left to her own devices, as Christian Beck withdrew LawConnect from the race.

Before the race, David Griffith said from Whisper, “We’re ready,” referencing the start of the 36th edition of the 226 nautical mile race.

“We’re here to try and win. I’ve got the right people to help me do that; Iain Murray, Michael Coxon and Tom Braidwood are in my core crew,” he said.

Luna Blue launches off a wave – Andrea Francolini pic

Whisper is in fine form, having recently broken the Montague Island race record. She also placed fifth overall and fifth over the line in the 2021 Sydney Hobart.

The bane of his and others’ lives are the TP52s, in particular Ichi Ban (Matt Allen). In December, Ichi Ban became only the third yacht to win the Sydney Hobart three times and in February she won the Adelaide to Port Lincoln Yacht Race. The Pittwater to Coffs is one of the rare races Allen and his TP52 are yet to win.

Allen’s crew includes Mat Belcher, the most decorated Olympic 470 sailor in history, world-class navigator Will Oxley and the RPAYC’s own Alice Tarnawski, a product of the RPAYC Youth Development program.

The fleet got off the start cleanly the second time – Andrea Francolini pic

Fifteen minutes before the start, Carl Crafoord, owner/navigator of Sail Exchange reported: “The rain’s stopped, the sun’s out and we are in a 15-17 knot east/north-easterly. It’s on the nose to get out of here and then it’s supposed to be a gradient easterly of 15 to 20 knots.

“It should be a good race for us. Unfortunately though, it will get light towards the end and that will favour the bigger boats, while it will be doughy and slow for us,” he said from the nav station of his Cookson 12.

The highly regarded navigator experienced unforeseen difficulties when he arrived at his yacht this morning: “We were doing last minute jobs we didn’t know about until we got on board. We had to change the alternator on the motor, fix the Wi-Fi and our computer screen. It was a bit of a rush,” the Middle Harbour Yacht Club member explained.

Speedwell was late to the start – Andrea Francolini pic

John Turnbull, owner of RPAYC entry, Luna Blue, was raring and ready to go. “They’ve forecast a pretty good easterly for the first 24 hours. It may shift a little to the north, so it’s straight on the rhumbline at good speed for us. The forecast suits us,” he said from his Beneteau First 45.

At the smaller end of the fleet are the likes of Highway Patrol, a Dubois 30 (9.14 metres) owned by Michael Blaxall, Shane Connolly’s 9.9 metre J/99 Rum Rebellion and Martin Cross’ 10 metre Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300, Transcendence Crento.

Among the notable double-handed entries is Speedwell (Campbell Geeves/Olly Gill), Rum Rebellion (Shane Connelly/Graeme Dunlop), Local Hero (Mark Ayto), Transcendence Crento (Martin and John Cross), Runaway (Tim Alexander/Mark Goode) and Intiy (Marc Depret/ Rouzbeh Katrahmani). Intiy is a radical downwind flyer, the first of the one-design Beneteau Figaro 3s to be launched in Australia.

Depret, who hails from the host club, remarked before the start, “The more south that’s in the breeze, the better it is for us. As soon as we get a chance to pop the Code Zero up, we will. It will be a chance to put distance on the rest.

“At the moment though, the predicted easterly isn’t ideal for us, but it’s OK. The wind will be in the lower range in the beginning. I think there will be squalls and rain clouds, but I don’t think we’ll be parked, we’ll be moving. The question is, in what direction? That is the general feeling at the moment,” he said.

On arrival in Coffs Harbour, crews will be welcomed at Coffs Harbour Yacht Club (CHYC) and the Club will have the barbecue and bar running on the weekend of 9 and 10 April.

The Club Marine Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race presentation will be held on Sunday 10 April at Coffs Harbour Yacht Club.

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