Slow start segues to breezy finish for SailFest Newcastle Day 1

A good story is supposed to have what English teachers call a sizzling start, but the wind gods had other ideas today for Race 1 of the Sailfest Newcastle Regatta Offshore Series, supported by City of Newcastle and Transport for NSW.

Instead, the nine competing TP52s and 18 yachts all idled out of Newcastle Harbour in a zephyr, entertaining only a solitary seal that was kicking back on a shipping buoy. The second chapter, however, was completely different as a 15- to 20-knot easterly appeared from thin air and glum skies.

Line-honours and IRC winner Ichi Ban under kite – Salty Dingo pic

Suddenly the TP52s sprang to life in the offshore passage race, Sebastian Bohm’s crew on Smuggler cottoning onto the breeze line first. They popped a chute and absolutely screeched down the reach off Newcastle’s beaches, leaving the others in a cloud of spray.

Ichi Ban (Matt Allen) unfurled its Code 0 and headed off in hot pursuit, leading a bunched pack that unleashed speeds of 17 knots or more in highly confused seas. Ichi grabbed the lead when Smuggler’s spinnaker tore, then Matthew Donald’s Gweilo found a passing lane to edge its way in front.

Zen surfing off Newcastle’s beaches – Salty Dingo pic

Matt Allen’s hardened crew were having none of that, finding an extra gear upwind to cross the Harbour finish line three minutes ahead of Gweilo, with David Doherty’s Matador third, just 20 seconds ahead of fourth-placed Celestial. The same top three took the IRC handicap honours.

Matador won the day from Quest and Smuggler using the class’s own TPR handicapping system.

“We could see the breeze coming over the horizon, but we were stuck in a trough and had a complete set of doughnuts on the speedo,” Ichi Ban owner-skipper Matt Allen recalled. “Smuggler did it well and got their nose into the wind first. Gweilo also got a beautiful puff and passed us on the run and we had to reel them in.

Matador claimed class TPR honours – Salty Dingo pic

“There’s quite a lot of current out there after the recent rain so the first boat into it got an elevator ride. But it was also pretty rough, so we were on and off the plane.”

Ichi Ban is carrying its inshore rig but will switch to offshore mode after the regatta.

“It was incredible to be back among nine TPs,” Allen added. “You have to sail your own boat and hopefully go fast and the right way. Really, it’s about making fewer mistakes in tricky conditions like those.”

Terry Wetton, Club Captain for the newly amalgamated Australian TP52 Sailing Association, was more relieved than anyone when the wind vindicated the decision to hold the passage race today instead of Sunday.

“My name was apparently mentioned a few times when they parked up at the end of the breakwall, but when Smuggler hooked onto that pressure, I knew it was going to be good after that,” Wetton said.

Offshore PHS honours went to the Adams 10 Get It On, owned by Garry Holt, representing Southport Yacht Club. Dale Sharp’s Farr 31, SoFarr, almost caught the TP52s in the early drifter, but couldn’t match the Adams 10’s downwind speed once the breeze kicked. So, it was second on PHS and first on IRC. Ataraxia, skippered by Scott Knight, won the Cruising Division on PHS and ORC.

The TP52 Super Series in Europe attracts 11 boats – SailFest currently has nine but there’s the chance of 14 next year if everything goes to script.

Three windward-leewards are planned for tomorrow to wrap up the TP52 City of Newcastle Gold Cup and Transport for NSW Offshore Series.

Sailing Champions League AP finals – Salty Dingo pic

In other racing today, the Sailing Champions League Asia Pacific match racing series completed three full rounds ahead of its finale tomorrow. Performing strongly were the teams from Royal Sydney, Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club, Mornington Yacht Club and Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, so any State can win it tomorrow.

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Mark Rothfield

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