Upwind blast was 'great adventure' say sailors

The PIC Insurance Brokers Coastal Classic has concluded for 2013. With it came new energy and commitment from an enthusiastic major sponsor and a family of supporters, a growing fleet, and the fun, games and challenge that traditionally marks Labour Weekend and launches the season of summer sailing in New Zealand.

There are one of two things that can happen when entrants in the PIC Insurance Brokers Coastal Classic hear that a Northerly is forecast. One is that they decide to drive to Russell to take part in the race festivities. But most take the challenge on the chin and march on, knowing it might not be comfortable, but steadfast in their determination to get their boat over the line, and to have a great adventure in the process.

For the 151 starters, a march is exactly what it was, for the first ten hours or so at least. Parts were hard, parts were easy, but there was only one option: to keep going.

The gun fired at 1000hrs on Friday 25 October 2013 off Devonport Wharf in Auckland, which saw a short reach the few hundred metres to the eastern end of North Head, but from there it was onward and upward for the 119 nautical mile stretch to Russell.

Most boats in all three divisions opted to sail the shorter distance, starting the race at the wharf end of the line and braving the famous North Head wind shadow. Some were able to hoist reaching sails and get legs that way, and others – like Taeping and Stealth Mission – started well down to leeward in clear air and at impressive speed.

The North Westerly held on for most of the day on Friday, with a relatively easy-going sea state that meant the boats which are designed to excel at upwind sailing, could come to the fore.

“It wasn’t an ultra difficult race, but it was a challenging one,” says Race Director Matthew Flynn. “Wind and sea conditions with strongish coastal breezes made it tactically difficult, there were a lot of fluctuations, and a lot of sail changes on some boats.”

He says there was a split down the coast between the onshore and offshore breezes, and a North-East tide versus a North-West breeze, and the tacticians needed to position their boats close to the coast, but not too close.

The three titans on the race course – the 60 foot trimarans TeamVodafone and Team Australia, and the Volvo 70 Giacomo – took an easy, early lead, with match racing style lead changes between the trimarans eventually sorted out when Team Australia picked up a new breeze line south of Rodney, sailing past TeamVodafone to a convincing lead of more than 30 minutes.

Giacomo, on its first major race in New Zealand, arrived in Russell at 2141hrs, and the large catamaran, and former race winner, Taeping, at 2158hrs.

Charleston was the first finisher to surprise race watchers: the 28 foot catamaran proved that size does not necessarily equal might in an upwind race, arriving fifth, at 2222hrs. The five fifty footers, led by Georgia at 2254hrs, crossed the finish line within an hour of each other, and the new multihull entrant, Dragon, crossed at 2331hrs.

A wet and squally front passed through right on time on Friday evening, after which the breeze backed off, leaving the remaining competitors wondering when – and if – it was ever going to come back. For some, like Ash Rogers and her all-girls crew on Strider, it came too late, and they were unable to finish.

“The most frustrating moment, not having any wind and being so close but so far! We are still trying, we got speed up to 3.5 knots on a good course, but unless we get some good winds on the other side [of Cape Brett] and this side, we definitely won’t be making it. We need a miracle at this point!”, Ash reported in at 1225hrs on Saturday.

Taniwha, also on its maiden voyage with a new crew, lost its rudder and after having limited success steering with a spinnaker pole, was eventually towed to safety by a fishing charter boat, where they caught up with the crew of Tongue Twister and Pacific Icon, for a beach-side spit roast with some local residents.

For about 20% of the fleet, the race took more than 24 hours – one of the longest in a number of years, and 29 boats did not finish the race – either retiring, or still on the course at the cut off.

“Congratulations to everyone on their seamanship and safety,” says Matthew Flynn. “People sailed really well. They slowed down when it got rough, and looked after their crew.”

He said that more than any other year, this year seemed like a great adventure, that people really enjoyed, and as soon as the sailors were ashore, showered and fed, they were talking about next year. Even Sean Langman promised in his victory speech, that Team Australia would be back in 2014.

Being the first upwind race since 2008, a new set of boats were rewarded for the efforts: Omega 8, owned by Scott McLaren and representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, took top handicap honours from amongst the mononull fleet, winning the brand new North Sails trophy for its efforts. Spitfire won Division 2 on handicap, RnB took the double in Division 3, and the modified Ross 930 No Worries, in Division 4. Sigma 2 won Division 5 on PHRF. Fruition was the first multihull on handicap, and Cotton Blossom II the first Bay of Islands boat to arrive home. Elevation was the smallest boat to finish.

At the prizegiving in Russell, the skipper of Lawless had the opportunity to win the Audi A1 – but was ultimately unsuccessful – and tens of thousands of dollars worth of prizes and spot prizes were given away by the family of race sponsors: Musto, Jack Tar, PredictWind.com, Elf Oil, Mount Gay Rum, Burnsco, Jackson Electrical, Dirty Dog, Railblaza, and Yamaha.

The New Zealand Multihull Yacht Club thanks the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron for its extensive support of the event. Once the trophies have been engraved with this year’s winners, they can be viewed in the Dinghy Locker at the RNZYS.

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