By Sail Port Stephens Media Team
Three divisions of yachts enjoy a passage race around the islands at Sail Port Stephens.
Saturday sunshine and up to 22 degrees made for a perfect morning at Sail Port Stephens as crews prepared for the second day of the NSW Yachting Championships and Act 3 of the TP52 Gold Cup.
The wind forecast was for light and variable, and the race committee confirmed it as a passage race day taking into account the Sunday forecast for stronger winds and big seas in the closing hours of the three-day regatta.
A brand-new course was selected with Division 1 and 2 heading up to Broughton Island, before turning back south around another mark, then the Boondelbah, Little and Cabbage Tree Islands, and onto the finish line inside the bay. Division 3 had a slightly shorter course which didn’t include the mark rounding off Broughton Island.
At the start line off Box beach, a popular surfing location between Fingal Bay and Shoal Bay in Tomaree National Park, competitors arrived in plenty of time. A breeze was blowing over the line at 8-10 knots which gave the sailors good opportunities to run the line, practice some kite hoists, and even produce some ‘big boat noises’ from the winches when sheets were eased.
The nine strong TP52 fleet were to be first off and, still dosed up from the German sausage BBQ festival put on by regatta sponsor Pantaenius Insurance the night before, the sailors were focused on results and getting a good start.
At 1055 the sequence start time of 1125 was confirmed, and concentration went up a notch. Then the start was upon us. All the 52s came in fast with a choice of the boat end with kite already set, taken by Quest, or the pin end with Matador, Gweilo, and Secret Mens Business flying down to tack on the pin with a quick hoist to accelerate through the line.
A moment of tension on the pin with three of these racing machines vying for the slot between the pin and pin boat but that quickly passed as the crews got into rhythm. A bright orange hull flashed as Secret Mens Business powered away, whilst at the other end of the line Quest was once again showing tight crew work with no hesitation in their maneuvers and leading the fleet in these initial stages.
Five minutes and Division 2 yachts were in the slot. Symmetrical kites were set, and the bulk of the fleet hammered towards the start line with perfect timing. A clear start was called as Joe de Kock’s Farr 40 GoodForm out of Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club nailed it at the boat end, with the big RP52 Virago right on his stern and Nine Dragons steered by Robert Cox keeping them both honest.
The pin end for the Division 2 start was a lot quieter than for the Division 1, and Neal Farquharson on the DK46 Khaleesi (MHYC) made it his own with a clear water beeline for the next mark. They didn’t have it all their way for long though as the always enthusiastic Keiran Mulcahy on his King 40 Soozal was quickly chasing his sparring partner down.
The horns soon started from the start boat again as Division 3 lined up to contest their slightly shorter course. No fuss and bother from this fleet with all seven competitors taking full advantage of a clear pre-start maneuvering paddock to ensure they got a good slot. Away they went with Neil Padden on Wailea showing the smarts for a good start at the pin end, and the hull of Dale Sharp’s Farr 31 So Farr beaming red in pursuit.
So Farr started to pull away but NoCleks, the Farr 30, was not letting them go and took them as they passed the mouth of the bay. The Middle Harbour Yacht Club Sydney 36 Stormaway was also up amongst it… it was going to be a tight race.
Up to the top mark at Broughton Island for Division 1 and 2 on a nice VMG run and the fleets were in the groove. Secret Mens Business was the first to arrive with a good gap, enough to be able to do a clean, safe and early drop before the port rounding and powering off on a beat to the next mark. Gweilo was next and kept her nose clean, with the third arrival Smuggler leaving the drop a little bit late and losing some momentum.
Zen was next and was under pressure from Quest causing them to take a few more metres of runway to make the drop. The in came Matador, powering in from the port side of the course and coming up to the mark looking for a very quick drop and rounding inside Zen and Quest. All was going well until the drop went slightly array and the rounding caused the kite to gather around the bowsprit and down under the bow as she came up onto the new heading.
Division 2 were next around the top mark with the first arrival, RP52 Virago, stealing the thunder from a couple of back markers of the TP52 fleet. The DK46 Nine Dragons was next with Good Form rounding out the three.
All fleets then had to clear three islands before heading for the finish and a well-deserved Saturday night. Around the first of the islands, Boondelbah, Division 1 and 2 had a carbon copy of the top mark order with Division 2 suffering from the wind dying and shifting as they worked the gybes to keep some boat speed.
Division 3 had reached Boondelbah earlier due to the course layout with the Farr 30 Nocleks taking the honours of first around, Sydney 36 Stormaway second around, and another Sydney 36, King Tide from the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club in third.
Nocleks went on to win the passage race on IRC and earn third place on ORC. Skipper Joel Skelton was secure back at home with his family after doing the previous part of Sail Port Stephens when he heard the good news. “My father Mark is in charge for these three days, maybe that was a good idea.” Mark Skelton was pleased with the result and was quick to praise his experienced crew. “They are a good bunch of sailors. We had seven on the boat today and I have sailed with all of them over the years. We got off the line very nicely, working the boat for speed, and keeping out of the parking lots around the islands.”
Division 2 was won by Keiran Mulcahy on Soozal (IRC). After commenting yesterday that the racing was so tight in this division that “one little hiccup” could make a difference, it was obvious that his whole crew had held their breath as a preventative measure. Second place went to Bushranger and third to GoodForm. Gerry Hatton, Bushranger, living up to his predictions as they have “always done well in passage races at Sail Port Stephens.”
The TP52 fleet showed once again the level of competition in this very healthy class. New boats are signing up and quickly getting up to speed, putting pressure on the crews that have been on the water for a few seasons.
“It is very competitive in the TP fleet. It was so close, which was great. They are hard to hang onto these new boats, but we know our boat well and we’re sailing it really well at the moment.” commented Craig Neil, skipper of Quest. Seb Bohm, skipper of Smuggler, agrees. “The competition is fierce, there are some top boats and sailors in Australia here, and to manage to keep up with them is no small feat.”
Secret Mens Business, took first in IRC for today’s passage race, followed by Gweilo and Matador. Under their class rating, TPR, Smuggler took the honours followed by Matador and Secret Mens Business.
Once again, we’ll leave the last words to PRO Denis Thompson. “Initially the forecast was not looking positive, with light winds and glass outs predicted. We went for the passage race today to keep an eye on the predicted South West change coming up the coast tomorrow. This evening the models are showing a late arrival for that change, so we are good to get our six-race goal in with a couple of windward leeward races tomorrow.”
Story – Sail Port Stephens Media Team