Tollgate Islands Race: Two-handed sailors give fully-crewed yachts run for their money

When the two-handed S&S 34 ‘Crux’ team of Carlos Aydos and Peter Grayson, saw the weather forecast before the start of the Tollgate Islands Race (260nm), they applied for leave for work on the following Monday, almost certain they would not be home by daylight on the Sunday.

Crux moments away from crossing the finsih line. Pic- Carlos Aydos
Crux moments away from crossing the finsih line. Pic- Carlos Aydos

Luckily, they got that day to regroup and recover as they were the final competitors in the 25-boat fleet to cross the finish line, located off Watsons Bay. They completed the Audi Centre Sydney Blue Water Pointscore’s Tollgate Islands Race on Sunday, October 16 at 6:39pm, almost 48 hours after the Sydney Harbour start at 7pm, Friday, October 14.

“The forecast was saying we were going to have a lot less wind than we did,” Aydos said. “There were definitely two moments where we stopped for quite a long time. But the wind picked up and we managed to get home by daylight [on Sunday], so that was incredible really.”

The Crux crew making the most of the stellar conditions. Pic - Carlos Aydos
The Crux crew making the most of the stellar conditions. Pic – Carlos Aydos

The Manly Yacht Club sailors last year sailed together in the inaugural two-handed division in the 2021 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race (RSHYR). The duo came away with an impressive six division wins in the Tollgate Islands Race, run by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), over the weekend. They won on IRC in Division 2, Two-Handed IRC, Two-Handed ORCi, ORCi overall, Two-Handed PHS and the Corinthian division. They placed second on PHS overall and in Division 2.

Crux was the talk of the town after it beat a number of professionally crewed, fully-crewed racing yachts to place fourth on IRC corrected time behind super maxi ‘Andoo Comanche’ (first), Reichel Pugh Maxi 72 ‘URM Group’ (second) and Reichel Pugh 69 ‘Moneypenny’ (third).

The southerly headwinds on the Friday evening, with gusts surpassing 20 knots, suited the S&S 34 on corrected handicap, as it performs at its best to windward in decent winds and wave chop.

Carlos Aydos (left) and Peter Grayson (right) aboard Crux. Pic - Peter Grayson
Carlos Aydos (left) and Peter Grayson (right) aboard Crux. Pic – Peter Grayson

Although Aydos and Grayson’s focus was predominantly on the five other two-handed competitors, the pair were chuffed to be up there with the likes of RSHYR line honours winner Andoo Comanche. They acknowledged that the fourth place was a result of a combination of their own good sailing, conditions that suited the boat and a touch of luck.

“Getting fourth overall was the icing on the cake for us really. It was very unexpected,” Aydos said. “I guess being one of the smallest boats in the fleet, it was an odd, lucky moment. If there’s a carpark on the course and you’re the last boat, eventually you’re going to get lucky you know,” Aydos added, referring to the fluky conditions the fleet experienced, especially during the race’s second leg.

Aydos and Grayson’s first offshore race was around this time last year for the 2021 Blue Water Pointscore Flinders Islet Race. More than a year and multiple races later, the duo have been able to learn more about two-handed sailing, which gives them an edge over some of the other two-handed crews.

“Since we started our RSHYR campaign last year, our focus was on finishing. I think this year we started to get a little bit more confidence with the experience we’ve been building and thought: ‘Maybe we can start being a little bit more aggressive in the sail changes’.

“This race we had, I think, 16 sail changes. We were working really hard, and I think that paid off at the end.”

Being on one of the smallest boats in the offshore fleet, the pair have also learnt how to take tactical advantage of being at the back of the pack on scratch. During the home stretch, for example, they observed that their competitors, who had decided to go close to the shore to avoid the current, had run into a no-wind area between Ulladulla and Jervis Bay.

“Because we could see them on AIS we said, ‘Hang on that’s not a great place to be. We’d rather be in current [with wind] than no wind.’ That helped a lot as well. Being at the back sometimes helps.”

hane Connelly's Rum Rebellion. Credit - Shane Connelly
hane Connelly’s Rum Rebellion. Credit – Shane Connelly

Rum Rebellion

Shane Connelly and his J/99 ‘Rum Rebellion’ (CYCA) co-skipper Tony Sutton met more than 30 years ago, when they sailed with each other at Batemans Bay Sailing Club in the 1980s.

Connelly and Sutton were able to use their local knowledge to try to avoid the current which, at times, flowed against Rum Rebellion at a speed of up to two-knots.

“We knew where we were going as we were pretty close to the bricks. We certainly pushed the margins a few times,” Connelly said.

Connelly, who celebrates his 62nd birthday on Thursday (and this coincides with the first birthday of his J/99 Rum Rebellion) said these tricky manoeuvres were crucial for their recovery after an unfortunate spinnaker drop at Tollgate Islands.

As the pair were in the process of the dropping the spinnaker, with Connelly ready in the pit and Sutton on the bow, their autopilot, nicknamed ‘Ringo’, suddenly rounded up into the wind after hitting a wave.

“So, we ended up with a kite half down, rounded up in the bloody water. Ringo didn’t get a beer after the race,” Connelly joked.

Transcendence Crento placed third on Two-Handed PHS. Pic - Shane Connelly
Transcendence Crento placed third on Two-Handed PHS. Pic – Shane Connelly

The pair pulled off a masterly comeback to have David Henry’s Sydney 36 ‘Philosopher’ and Martin Cross’s Jeanneau Sunfast 3300 ‘Transcendence Crento’ in their sight as they approached Sydney heads at around 5pm on Sunday. They went on to claim second on IRC Corinthian, third on Two-Handed IRC and fourth on Two-Handed ORCi.

Connelly, was pleased as punch with Rum Rebellion’s effort and the result of the two-handed teams overall, who put on spectacular display of racing.

“We’re really happy with the result, but we’re happy with the results across the board. It’s like a chess game, so close,” Connelly said.

Although there is healthy competition between the two-handed competitors, they’re a close-knit bunch when back on dry land.

“There’s something a bit different from a community perspective about two-handed sailing,” Connelly reflected. “The two-handed community perseveres beyond the race day. We all know each other. We’re all sort of one big crew on different boats.

“The camaraderie is amazing. I think it’s because you’re pushing yourself to a level you normally wouldn’t in sailing.”

Connelly praised the first edition of the Tollgate Islands Race which, after the RSHYR (628nm) and the Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race (384nm), is the third longest offshore race on the Sydney Blue Water Pointscore calendar.

“The highlight was the race. It was a challenging race as a navigator too. There’s a lot of bommies you’ve got to be aware of on the way too, and you’ve got counter currents and currents. So yeah, it was challenging all round. Challenging but rewarding.”

For the full results, see: https://bwps.cycaracing.com/standings/

By Greta Quealy / Australian Two-Handed Sailing Association

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