Wipeouts and sailors overboard as wild weather hits Corio Bay

Conditions were hectic for the Festival of Sails fleet due to a howling west sou’west breeze gusting to 28 knots inshore and 33 offshore that whipped up Corio Bay and put the acid test on boat handling skills.

Gear breakages, ripped sails, four sailors overboard and some minor injuries kept Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson and his team busy on the radio and gave the event’s incident management system a thorough workout. 

For plenty of the near 3,000 competitors sailing at the Festival presented by Rex Gorell Land Rover, the energy and excitement level rising alongside the challenge metre was a welcome change of pace. Not so much for those paying the sailmaker’s bill to repair or replace the tens of thousands of dollars worth of sail cloth that went to God.

On the Rating Series outer harbour course the high performance 50-footers were seeing 30 plus gusts and hitting ridiculous speeds – Ray Robert’s Farr 55 OneSails Racing topped 26 knots of boat speed, or 48kph.

See some of the best wipeouts of the day here.

“It was pretty hectic as you would expect,” said Thompson. “Offshore the course officer recorded 30 knots. We shortened the passage race at the Hopetoun channel for the cruising divisions and we are reviewing tonight’s twilight race.”

At 1540hrs Thompson made the decision to cancel this evening’s planned twilight race, meaning pointscore results at the end of the previous race stand as final for the all cruising and cruiser/racer divisions.

The sports boats and Sydney 38s completed their series and spent the afternoon packing up for this evening’s trophy presentation at the Royal Geelong Yacht Club for those classes. 

Tomorrow Geelong’s waterfront celebrates Australia Day.  The Rating Series and Performance Rating divisions still have two races remaining before the lowest points earners can get their mitts on one of the 80 trophies that will be presented by the event close.

Hogs Breath Sports boats series
On the Sports Boats course one race was run then the sea-state and white caps really started to build thanks to 26-28 knots of wind screaming across the track. Nine races were plenty to constitute a series and the race officer Sylvia Talbot called it a day.

Most of the day’s camera action and howlers came from the cruising fleets, which struggled to hang on in the puffs.  The sports boats made it look easier, though they weren’t untouched  – Pornstar broke its mast and eventual series winner, David Ellis’ Stig Audi Driving Cousin, was knocked flat right by an angry squall right on the finish line.

“Boat handling was at a premium today, we needed to go out and not make big errors and not break anything,” Ellis said dockside after racing. “There was plenty on and the crew on our local competitor Challenge knows this place very well. My crew, including a couple of talented 470 sailors from Hobart kept it tidy and we had some fantastic rides, up to 17 knots of speed!”
Ellis moved to the sports boat scene two years ago and has already won multiple state titles with his Shaw 650. “I’m really enjoying this type of racing; it’s getting back to what we did as kids.”

Second to Ellis was Noel Leigh-Smith’s Viper QLD and third was Steve Williamson’s local Shaw 650, Dripping Wet.

Melges 24
Heath Walters’ road trip down from Sydney towing Pusser’s Rum Cavallino with his two sons Tavish (13) and Logan (11) to join WA based John Surriano and local Melges guru Dale Farrimond was well worth the effort. The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club entry beat Peter Mendall’s Amigos on a countback.

The youngest Walters, just days out from re-starting school, described today’s downwind rides as “Awesome!”

Morris Finance Sydney 38s
A fiery eight-race series was settled on Corio Bay among the Sydney 38s. Brenton and Jen Carnell’s local boat Phoenix led the pointscore from the outset and though knocked-down in the closing race quickly recovered and scraped through the carnage happening around them to claim the bullet in the brisk 25 knot breeze.

The overall win is a great boost for Phoenix’s crew going into next month’s national title event at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club. Jen said the three-day series has given them more experience and the result more confidence. “The hardest part of the regatta was today, thinking about your own races,” she said. Phoenix was runner-up at last year’s national title and the Carnells know the full complement of up to 20 one designs on the same start line will pose a major challenge to their first Australian crown.

Second by four points was class President Greg Clinnick and the co-owner of Audacious, Paul Holden, from Royal Brighton and third was Bruce Taylor’s Chutzpah 38 from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.

Chris Mrakas is the class’ newcomer and the Festival of Sails his first regatta, not just with this boat but as an owner. The RGYC member bought the late Lou Abrahams’ Challenge and has put together a fresh team. “This regatta was a baptism of fire,” he admitted today. “Friday we did everything wrong, Saturday we beat one of the good boats and today was out of our league.” On joining the 38s he said, “I don’t think you could join a more competitive class. The racing is intense; split second decisions have to be made and the level of competition humbles you.”

Mrakas is packing up and joining his Victorian class mates at the Australian title, February 20-22

Geelong Connected Communities S80s
Bas Huibers’ Merak was the clear overall winner of the S80 pointscore, putting a six point margin between them and Anthony Beck’s Escape. Outlaw was third.

Full progressive & final results here.

Lisa Ratcliff – Festival of Sails Media

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