A heady cocktail of heavy weather, competitive boats and tight regatta racing made this year's event one to remember, at least for those who survived it, reports Kevin Green.
The onshore wind rapped the halyards hard and spray lashed the breakwater of the CYCSA marina, hardly the best omen for our 156 nautical mile race to Port Lincoln. Hoisting the big carbon mainsail of the Beneteau 47.7 Rapid1 with double reefs in, we headed out into the 30-plus knots of southerly and were immediately on our beam ends as discomfort turned to alarm. Our big leeway bumped us on the sand; grabbing a handful of mainsheet to increase the heel got us off, only to be confronted by boats darting haphazardly over a steep two-metre swell as the 68 yachts jostled to make the startline. Struggling to get the number four headsail up, owner Keith Finch on the helm kept us well clear of the mayhem, as big catamarans slammed and 30 footers launched themselves into the air. Even the start boat had a tough time as it was rammed by a competitor and elsewhere a man overboard rescue was taking place. The casualties started early with Lara III damaged after a collision involving Renegade.
And so the stormiest, at least in recent memory, Adelaide to Port Lincoln race got under way as the fleet bashed its way parallel to the coast, down the shallow St Vincent Gulf in the late afternoon, as warm seas broke over their bows. Far ahead the 98ft Skandia disappeared into the haze with ex-Crows captain Mark Ricciuto on board, followed by Gary Shanks' Pale Rager and Nick George's Exile. The slamming conditions began to take its toll, especially on the multihulls, with the former record- breaking Raw Nerve dismasted, and all the others retiring apart from hardy souls on Timewarp.
Back on Rapid1, with most of the 10 crew huddled up on the rail being doused regularly with lumps of the southern ocean's best briny, there was understandably a distinct reluctance to be the furthest forward and a bit of introspection was apparent: “Why are we doing this,” declared rather than asked crewmate Annie. No one replied as we focused solely on holding on. Around us, the fleet settled into the beat with Michael Keough's new Farr 42 Spirit of Lexus to windward along with fellow Sydney-sider Bill Meikusjoan skippering the chartered Beneteau 40.7 True North.
After leaving the coast at Semaphore for the 40 mile crossing of the Gulf to Marion Reef, our radio sked reported the carnage, with many retirements that would eventually number 35 boats. On board Rapid1, the conditions had also taken its toll with several crew down with severe seasickness. As the inky black night fell around us, the lumpy conditions continued. Taking over the helm from our navigator Derek, a scan around showed a blinking light far in the distance, Marion Reef and a few nav lights behind us. As the evening wore on, a full moon rose, giving a battleship grey sheen to the water and with most of the seas on the bow apart from the occasional comber that lifted the crew on their tethers, we bashed our way at nearly nine knots safely past Marion Reef. But as I overheard later in the night, others weren't so lucky. Going below decks after my watch, the VHF sprang into life. It was the yacht Here and Now in distress after running on to Marion Reef. “What depth are you in?” asked the Coastguard rescue boat. “About a metre and half but the tide is rising,” came the calm reply. “Well, we can't approach you now.” Fortunately, they survived to be towed into port.
As the night wore on, our course for Cape Spencer, at the foot of the Yorke Peninsula, allowed us to ease sheets, and eventually consider a headsail change. This was the cue for offshore rookie Nicole, 23, to get here first taste of night-time foredeck work as she and I wrestled to hoist the reacher sail on a semi-submerged bow. Meantime, a shout from the rail warned of breaking seas to windward, out in Investigator Strait, which kept us all on our toes until daylight. Leaving the outlying Dangerous Reef to seaward, the new day showed the string of islands that would guide us across the Spencer Gulf to Boston Bay. Choosing the rhumbline, we watched as others took an easterly course near the Yorke Peninsula. “I've watched these guys do well on this inside course, then catch us on the leg into Port Lincoln,” said pensive skipper Keith.
As we reached up the Gulf with conditions marginal for a kite, given our depleted crew, we persisted in the lightening conditions as the entrance to Boston Bay, Cape Donnington, neared and boats popped over the horizon around us with kites flying. Coming up on the Roberts-designed Carpe Diem, we tussled with them until breaking clear into Boston Bay, as the Sydney 38 Another Challenge came up on our hip. By this stage our reacher was becoming over-pressed in its new job as a windward headsail so a quick peel under pressure was done and we powered towards Port Lincoln's town quay in the warm sunshine, overtaking eventual overall handicap winner Jonno Bannister's new Sydney 36 Another Planet.
Our result of sixth over the line after 22 hours at sea felt hard-earned but our aches and pains were eased immeasurably as a case of beer was thrown aboard by the friendly locals. Up on the quay, the savoury smells from the welcoming sausage sizzle wafted down on our weathered faces and stories were swapped among the rafted-up boats. Martin ?Tacka? Thompson, who'd been tactician on board his company's new 36, Another Planet, reckoned it had been a “pretty ballsey call to put the race on”. He attributed their success to early sail changes and keeping the 36 powered up with mostly the headsail doing the work in the steep conditions. “We also used the spinnaker early from the Foot [of the peninsula] and ran down with the mainsail flapping.”
As for veteran Dick Fidock, probably shaken rather than stirred from his 46th time on the course, he'd seen plenty of action in the event over the years but this one was definitely up there with the worst. “But it's generally a very easy race,” said the As Good As It Gets skipper.
Sunday dawned over a quiet Port Lincoln marina as crews slept in. But things began to stir as the overlanders arrived from their 650km trip from Adelaide with boats in tow. Among them Etchells, sports boats and Austral trailersailers to bump the week's forthcoming regatta fleet to around 43 boats. They were all welcomed with a big bash and prize-giving at the cosy Port Lincoln Yacht Club where the band played on and many thirsts were quenched and rivalries debated. Like Crows fan Paul “Colonel Sanders” Johnson, who told me he'd spent the entire trip on the Sydney 32Fresh with only his boat's polo shirt on, which happened to be in Port Adelaide colours. The reason? To prove Crow's fans were tougher than their rivals.
The beer flowed throughout the town hostelries during the balmy evening with the main strip of Tasman Terrace thronging with people enjoying the town's famed seafood, washed down by earthy local Shiraz.
By the Monday, the understandably ragged fleet had to face up to the prospects of the days ahead. Principal Race Officer Stewart “Jock” Ross set the tone for the week by advising that any protesters should bring a beer to the committee room. Aboard Rapid1, our shortage of regatta race crew had been solved by the indomitable Annie shanghaiing some barflys the night before and skipper Keith declared the objective of racing the day's windward/leewards was to “get round the course and not f***-up too much”. And that was how it turned out as the 10 knot south-easterly gently wafted across Boston Bay, surrounded by its low-lying islands and headlands.
The light conditions and flat water favoured the smaller boats with Caillin Howard in his Mumm 30 Six Fish winning the first race in IRC, ahead of local Miles Stephens in the Sydney 32 Slap & Teakle. Caillin explained his retirement from the Bluewater Classic earlier: “We only lost our leech cord but we decided that if we continued in these conditions we were just going to flog our brand new sail to bits and end up missing out on Race Week. We all agreed that missing Race Week was not an option so we chucked the boat on the back of the car and here we are, just in time for the pub!”
Another winner, Hanson Monkey Puzzle, that was first in the Racing Division, never made it off the truck in Adelaide after the long journey from Port Fairy, with the crew deciding to head straight to Lincoln by road, rather than risk damaging the boat while sailing the Bluewater Classic. Mystery Taxi steered by Paul Henshall was the first Etchell across the line in both races of the day, while Speakeasy took out the depleted Cruising Division, Nerana the Trailerables and Wilpirina II the multihull division.
As the breeze :Racing Spirit of Lexus
For passage race down the coast and back around the low-lying Boston Island, I joined Michael, tactician ex-Olympian Chris Tillet and crew. Our strong start, followed by us taking the left side of the course as we worked towards the southern entrance of Boston Bay, kept us in contention with race leader the Exile, despite the close attentions of Six Fish, which we protested for a starboard infringement on the second tack. Despite their 360 penalty turn, Caillin and crew kept their Mumm 30 in contention with us until past the bay entrance, where we then chose to dodge the tide as Exile did, by hugging the coast as navigator Geoff consulted the B&G Deckman software to keep us off the bricks. Things got so tight at one stage that someone shouted to the navigator: “You do realise the GPS antennae is on the BACK of the boat!”. Going so low in to the rugged coast that we disturbed sleeping seals and roosting gulls paid off as we reeled Exile in. A straightforward hoist leaving an islet to port saw us gybe our way down past Boston Island in the 10 knot breeze under sunny skies, passing the rafts of fish farms, before hardening up to reach with headsail across towards Lincoln, before the long beat to the finish. The DK 46 had kept its distance from us but not far enough, as I checked my watch, showing them just under eight minutes ahead on the line, giving us victory in the four-hour race.
Back at the welcoming Marina Bar the friendly and raucous prize-giving was enlivened with the daily crayfish raffle, with the crew of As Good As It Gets taking home the seafood on that occasion.
Wednesday at Lincoln week plays host to the traditional Megga?s BBQ held each year at the
On the final day, Thursday, 15 knots of south-easterly powered Spirit of Lexus to a second and first giving them the regatta, ahead of Exile and True North, which had been charted for the regatta through Mariner Boating Holidays and Trevor Joyce, another stalwart of this wonderful event. Elsewhere in the fleet, it was good to see the youth program Ocean Mentor produce the winning boat in the Sydney 32 division. Developed by entrepreneur and Port Lincoln resident Peter Teakle, the young crew led by the laidback Simon Turvey had survived a tough week. “The challenge for us young people is taking on the old boys,” he told me with chuckle.
Farr 42 – Spirit of Lexus
Stepping aboard the Farr 42, the initial reaction was that the deck layout was pretty conventional, a good thing in itself but a close look showed good attention to detail. The traveller lines run under a gutter in the cockpit, folding cleats all round, LED lights fitted, to mention only a few positives. The cockpit area is smaller than some of the opposition, but as builder Michael Keough reminded me this is a racer cruiser, so locker space is welcome and the twin carbon wheels give easy access to the open stern. Up front, the spinnaker and kite arrangement is straightforward, as we found out during clean hoists during the race. Quantum sails were chosen for the carbon rig which is adjustable with the mast able to be shimmed according to requirements and at the stern the electric powered hydraulic backstay controls the rake.
The Austral-designed deck included a tapered toe rail towards the front, to keep the bowman in touch with terra firma during manoeuvres. Below decks, the white surfaces with round edges, topped off with carbon are very much supermaxi style and looked good.