Crews contesting the 32nd Sydney Short Ocean Racing Championship were faced with San Francisco-like sea fog on day one and a dust haze more typical of Abu Dhabi that settled over Sydney's rocky coastline on the Sunday.
While the IRC windward/leeward divisions were smaller in numbers, due to the drift towards the popular passage racing format, the calibre of yachts and crews contesting Middle Harbour Yacht Club's six-race series conducted on the Manly Circle course area was second to none.
Beachgoers looking out beyond the breakers at Curl Curl beach on the final day were treated to an impressive display of power sailing led by Stephen Ainsworth's Reichel Pugh 63 Loki (CYCA). With Gordon Maguire at the helm, the race-tuned Loki finished the series on nine points with a clean sweep of wins – five line honours and handicap victories from five races.
With less than four weeks out to the start of Australia's great ocean classic, the Rolex Sydney Hobart, Ainsworth and right hand man Maguire are delighted with the boat's consistent top form as they prepare to line up against the country's best.
“It's certainly a confidence booster going into the Rolex Trophy,” said the proud owner once the pointscore was cemented. “It was a small but high quality fleet and our margins were convincing. Our tactics were good, we didn't do anything wrong, and we might have had a bit of luck also,” Ainsworth added.
Second in the IRC division 1 pointscore on 13 points was Geoff Ross's recently modified Reichel Pugh 55 Yendys and third on 15 points was Bob Steel's champion Farr TP52 Quest, helmed by Mike Green.
Ross says his latest round of modifications, including a brand new keel, have transformed the boat – and he has more changes up his sleeve.
“This was a great regatta. Three races a day on the Manly Circle is as good as it gets,” said Ross.
Division 1 boasted the likes of Tom Braidwood and Darren Senogles but the on board talent within the IRC division 2 fleet was equally noteworthy with plenty of respected sailors sprinkled amongst the crews.
Victorian yachtsman Ian ‘Barney' Walker was mainsheet hand on the winning Terra Firma, Rob Brown, triple world champion and America's Cup contender steered Peter Blair's King 40 Canute into second place on the series table while revered Rolex Sydney Hobart yachtsman Roger Hickman finished fourth on the ladder with his Farr 43 Wild Rose, edging out Nick George's Pla Loma IV with yachting legend Ron Jacobs calling tactics.
Top honours in IRC division 2 pointscore went to Nicholas Bartels's Victorian Sydney 47 Terra Firma (SYC) on 14 points with Canute second on 18 points and Guy Stening's Farr 30 Optimum third on 22 points.
“It was a tricky series. With no drops you had to sail cleanly and consistently over the six races rather than looking glamourous for only some of the races,” admitted Bartels.
“The level of competition in division 2 was excellent, they were hard to beat. Being a little bigger we coped better with Sunday's layered breeze but also, we've optimised and we've put a lot of effort into getting everything right.”
Conditions were tough on the Manly Circle over the weekend with lots of second guessing amongst those calling the shots. Saturday's sea fog slowly burnt off to produce a stunning spring day while Sunday brought massive wind shifts starting with a blustery westerly that peaked at 23 knots before clocking right around the dial to the nor'east and fading.
Two Sydney Harbour starts in the vicinity of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race start line, north of Shark Island, mixed in with the usual weekend traffic provided a great spectacle for the second component of the SSORC – the Ocean Passage racer/cruiser fleet – and other harbour users.
Close to 50 boats set sail at midday on Saturday in a 10-12 knot sea breeze for their 18 nautical mile passage race to Long Reef and back to the finish line in Watsons Bay, this race counting towards the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's Ocean Pointscore Series.
In the best breeze of the day, a choppy 20 knots where the wind was funnelling in through the Heads, Leslie Green's Swan 60 Ginger followed race leader and eventual line honours victor Vanguard (Dick Cawse) to open water.
Vanguard, with veteran offshore yachtsman John Messenger at the wheel, took line honours in the first Ocean Passage race in a time of two hours 20 minutes, beating Ginger and Geoff Lavis's downwind flyer UBS Wild Thing home in style.
The second Ocean Passage race of the Championship, to a laid mark eight nautical miles on a 130 degree bearing, got away on Sunday in a gusty westerly and finished in a sea breeze. Paul Clitheroe followed up on his top IRC result from the previous day, scoring a second IRC victory to take out both the IRC and PHS overall Ocean Passage series win with his Beneteau 45, Balance (CYCA). “Sunday was a good outing for us. The 12-20 knot range and into the wind is the definitely this boat's sweet spot,” said the triumphant skipper.
Balance beat Bill Ebsary's well-sailed Beneteau First 44.7, Le Billet, in the IRC and PHS divisions, relegating Ebsary to second place on the ladder and denying him a fourth IRC win on the trot in this Championship.
Clitheroe aptly described conditions on the deciding day as “odd”, the fleet of close to 30 starting in a brisk westerly, running into the sea breeze at the laid mark, another westerly as they entered the harbour and up to Sow and Pigs and finally, a sou'wester on the other side of the navigational marks.
Sunday's conditions also made it technically a very difficult day for the race committee, Principal Race Officer John Hurley admitting it was hard to make decisions, let alone the right ones. “While they weren't typical summer conditions, they do exist and we just had to get on with racing,” he said. Hurley thanked the huge team of Middle Harbour Yacht Club volunteers both on water and ashore for their assistance and acknowledged the support of the combined clubs, which provided logistical support to this year's SSORC.
The next major event on the IRC circuit is the Rolex Trophy Rating Series, to be sailed off Sydney Heads from 17-20 December 2009.
IRC Racer Division 1 (W/L)
1st Loki Gordon Maguire
2nd Yendys Geoff Ross
3rd Quest Mike Green
IRC Racer Division 2 (W/L)
1st Terra Firma Nicholas Bartels
2nd Canute Peter Horn
3rd Optimum Guy Stenning
IRC Racer Cruisers (Passage Race)
1st Balance Paul Clitheroe
2nd Le Billet Bill Ebsary
3rd Even Finer Jason Antill
PHS Racer Cruisers (Passage Race)
1st Balance Paul Clitheroe
2nd Le Billet Bill Ebsary
3rd Out of Sight Matt Wilkinson
7 Islands Race Division 1
1st Vino Chris Hancock
2nd Jungle Juice Chris Williams
3rd Merlin John Lehman
7 Islands Race Division 2
1st Pinta Martyn Riddle
2nd Innamincka John Crawford
3rd Lady Laura Brett Nichols
7 Islands Race Division 3
1st Misky Stephen Evans
2nd Bacchus G.Akehurst/B.Bennett
3rd Jai-Dee Neil Simpson
Full results available at http://www.ssorc.mhyc.com.au/results-sheet.cfm
Lisa Ratcliff/SSORC media