Coffs 2015 - "The Race"

Rating: 5.00/5 (4 Votes)

As each of the yachts took off from the dock, many boats were sporting their bright orange Storm Jib and trysail on deck, we were no different . The view up Pittwater was pretty cool as boats and the spectator fleet made their way up to Broken Bay for the start.

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Excitement was high as we motored past Le Billet the very slick start boat with our Storm Sails flying and checked in with a smile and a wave from the race officials.  The Storm Sails away we got the main up and took a look around.

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 What a sight it was, you had Beau Geste the big black 80 footer, screaming through the start line practicing starts.....

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and Team Australia the 60 foot Trimaran flying hulls for the crowd as everyone (including us) looked on.  We figured this would be about the closest we would get to these guys all race so it was worth a few minutes to check them out.

Not to be outdone the Teams on the TP 52’s, Shogun and Ragamuffin, were imposing as well, the closing speeds as they came toward you  need to be experienced to be believed.

625 Coffs Start3The crew were busy taking photos of the crazy start area

After having a good old gawk we needed to get a practice start done and get our mind back in the boat, it was forecast to be strongest around start time and go pretty light  so the Code 3 (100% jib) for us.  We got it going and had a run at the line, deciding on the boat end so we could get a better reaching angle out of the bay.

625 Coffs Start4Soon enough we were set up for racing 

The 5 minute cannon  went off and we set up at the pin end ready for a port run down the back of the line for a tack onto Starboard right on the spectator fleet then a long run up at the line.  It was a good plan and got us in position for a really good start.  The wind had shifted a little to the south so  it wasn’t difficult to find some extra  height to call boats up on the line. I was very conscious of this as the line started getting very crowded. I had 5 or 6 40 footers below me and around 4 boats trying to find room reaching down from behind the start boat.

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Given we were looking like arriving right between the two groups of boats bang on the line, and the group of boats below would easily call us up as the wind had tended more south..... I had a feeling it was not going to end well for us so I called ease and then dived into a half tack to knock off speed and slot in behind the boats coming up from below. 

Whilst not as aggressive as I would have been in a Short Ocean or Inshore race, I was always told, no ocean race is won at the start but plenty have been lost.  So in the end we got a bit of shitty start in bad air from the boats in front but quickly found some space below. Most of the boat end fleet took off out to sea and we eased of and reached NE toward Maitland Reef. It turned out getting out of the crowded line was a good plan as three boats had been called back from that group.

625 Start AirThe start form up on Barrenjoey Headland

 Very quickly it became touch and go if we could carry a spinnaker as we were close to a beam reach.  Given our ordinary start, we were keen to be one of the first boats to go for one so we could steal a bit of ground on our competition.  When one of the other smaller boats went for one, we were right behind them with our big pink A3. As luck would have it – and right in front of the cameras it went up wine glassed (twisted). Instructions were shouted, and the boys on the foredeck got the headsail down quickly.

625 foredeck1Matt and Len were busy on the foredeck - for 3 days!

A little yelling ensued and the genoa went down which sorted out the mess and we were properly on our way to Coffs Harbour. 

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Here is a little video of the start by – you will see our wineglass at 2m30secs.

We dropped quite a bit of height but sailed right past our main competitor for the under 36 foot line honours prize, “Corroboree”. As got past Maitland Reef (with a small sigh of relief) and  the wind played ball by shifting a little more South we saw Spinnakers popping up all around us but mostly behind and celebrated the good recovery with a quick beer. 

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We fired up the tracker off Terrigal and were happy to see we had sailed ourselves into a pretty good position on the ORCi scoreboard.

325 1Early position 325

It was not to last too long but when the wind ran out just off Norah Head we were still trying to hang onto” Harlequin”, ”Occasional Course Language” and the big Blue Spinnaker of “Margaret Rintoul V”, the Frers 61 footer. A spinnaker change up to a bigger running kite and weight up front was the order of the afternoon. 

625-Occasional Course LanguageOCL1 from earlier in the day - these boys are fast so we tried to hold onto them as long as we could 

625 day1 no wind2Even the skipper has to sit on the boom sometimes 


325 2 good recovery 325 3 wind drops

Things got quite tricky and a little frustrating as the wind went very light and eventually went around to the North East. Unfortunately our very small window of great wind for us was now gone and it was time to “ghost” along still following our plan of just get north as fast as possible and find the new wind off Port Stephens.

625 Dan kitchen

Dan cooked up his famous dinners in a bag and we settled in 

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We got past Newcastle at around midnight and were overtaken a number of times heading up Stockon Beach by some of the bigger boats in the light but pretty constant breeze. In the early hours the guys on “Hussy” the Sydney 47 passed us like we standing still, it was a little disheartening so we cracked a beer and kept our eyes on the boats more our size range like the Sydney 36 “Amante” and the 9.5m “Corrobboree”.

625 DSC 0076Leonie and Morag catch some Zz's on the rail passing Stockton

In retrospect I think we went a little close in to the beach in Stockton Bight, the boats that tacked out earlier like Amante made a lot of ground and Solutions the Dehler 41 sailed around the outside of us. 

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It was about here that saw us start dropping down the leader boards, the heady heights of 3rd earlier in the evening were a distant memory as we dropped down to 8th settled in to try and get past the entrance to Port Stephens as the wind dropped to barely anything in the early light of morning.

325 5 inside island 325 6 caught 

As it was my turn for a nap and there was not much wind to speak of,  I snuck downstairs for a couple of hours and got a bit of reading and a very short kip in. I came back up around 8am to find our watch captain and navigator had decided on a course behind Broughton Island.  It’s fair to say I was not immediately convinced, and felt we still had time to tack back out to sea to re-join the fleet . I had not however been privy to the last 2 hours of no wind. The prevailing mood on deck was now we have 8 knots of wind we should not tack out of it and risk getting stuck in the lee of the Island – I was also reminded of my standing instruction to move north as fast and by any means necessary to sail into new wind.

625 Dave drivingDave our superstar watch captian and other driver did plenty of miles on the helm (Broughton Island in the background as we head around

So we stuck with it and got around in ok time, however the boats out to sea did a little better as the wind filled in and went a little more East and “Corrobboree” and “Sail time Swift” the Bene First 44.7 crossed us as we headed back out to sea from behind the island to re-join the Rhumb line. We had some fun sticking out to sea whiile they hugged the coast and followed right through th emiddle of seal recks right behind them. 

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We managed to get back past Corrobboree after we rounded Seal Rocks, after being amazed by how close those guys were going to the headlands! They had clearly done this before. We also managed to claw a little ground back on Amante, Hussy, Solutions and “Sailtime Swift” and “Adventure Safety Jem” as we passed Forster and the bunch of us took off on a drag race close hauled up the coast toward Crowdy Head.

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325 7 drag race

You might notice Team Australia heading the wrong way in this photo, we found out via SMS broadcast they had lost their mast, here is a shot from onboard...


The wind steadily increased as the day went on and started shifting back to the North. We also saw the first properly strong Southerly current we had encountered in Crowdy Bay.

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Sprits were still high despite the light wind 


As the wind crept up to 24/ 25 knots we went through a couple of sail changes in the very steep choppy waves.  Matt our bowman and Len his new apprentice did a great job skinning sails as we tacked a number of times to get the sail on the right Tuff Luff track. Unfortunately the boys took quite a beating during the manoeuvres.

As we went down to a Code 4 Jib we struggled for power in the current and chop but were getting significantly heeled over in the gusts. Subsequently we decided to go back to a Code 3 (100% Jib) and a single reef main to try and flatten to boat out but give us enough power to cut through the chop. 

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This seemed to work out and we set about catching back up to Corrobboree who as the sun set,  were giving us a lesson in staying out of the current and overtook us over a number of tacks from Cowdy Head to North Haven.

During the night from Crowdy Head to Port Macquarie we had some of the toughest conditions we had for the race. Unfortunately it coincided with us losing touch with the group of 4 boats we had been doggedly hanging onto since Seal Rocks.

The wind wasn’t that bad although it was constantly variable from 15 to 25 knots, and the waves were not that big, but the direction the two were coming from, and combined with the current – which we had not worked out the strength of yet, made for a pretty uncomfortable second nights sailing. It was ok on Starboard tack but Nasty BANG BANG BANG on the port tack out to sea. The angle to the wind was directly into the steep waves, we experimented dropping a little lower to try and smooth out the ride but ended up losing ground. 

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The last thing Matt told me before he went for a well deserved sleep was make sure you keep an eye on the plotter here as there are some underwater reefs and stuff. This turned out to be very good advice as we persevered and tacked our way inside Shoals and reefs south of Port Macquarie, following the little white stern light behind Corrobboree. Given Matt was asleep I did a couple of the sail changes on the foredeck with Len and got a small insight into the fun Matt had been having up there as I got dunked to the neck punching through a wave and felt the water run down my back.

625 night 1

As Dave, Matt, Leonie and Morag came back on deck around 3am I was pretty shagged and was sent down for a sleep. The wind was still quite variable between 15 and 18 knots, we had shaken our reef out quite a while earlier and were doing ok with the full main and Code 3. A couple of hours later we got the call up for a reef as the wind hit 25 knots again and we were back into the thick of it.

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We again decided to reef and carry the bigger headsail and after we sent a few people down to bed and as the sun came up, Dani made some Ham and scrambled egg wraps as we kicked along at around 7.5 knots of boat speed.

625 Early day 3

That was pretty much the story of the wind all the way from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour 15 to 25 knots variable. We did what felt like a million sail peels to try and keep the heel down and the boat speed up. We made a couple of the larger tacks out to sea when we thought the current was not as strong and now realise it was hurting us big time.

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We also had some very strange wind angle readings on our port tack, we just could not seem to point. The jury is out if it is instrument recalibration required, it was the current or the Whisper Mug grounding had done some damage to the keel angle. Ours is a retractable keel and so it may have shifted in the box slightly and jammed maybe? We will be keeping a close eye on that in next weekends SOPS race.  I have a sneaking suspicion it is the current …but let’s see.

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We had not seen Andrew Butlers Dehler 36 “Astral” all race and they all of a sudden made an appearance – looming large in our rearvision mirror. They had been doing the hard yards tacking all the way along the beach and steadily caught us just after Nambucca.

Speaking of Nambucca, it was awesome to see Chloe’s post on Facebook as we sailed in close to the breakwater, the messages of support from everyone were very much appreciated! By this stage tired is an understatement -  we were just counting the miles and making predictions of when we would arrive in Coffs for the shore crew.

chloe grimes
 From Chloe - "Watching @Marcus_Grimes pass by Nambucca Heads on High Anxiety"

Now we were not giving in to Astral without a fight and everyone was out hiking and we had great fun trying to keep them behind us. 

But as it went Astral gave us a lesson in using the shore to avoid the current which was pushing well over 3 knots out to sea and 2knots along the shore, and once again we were left rueing our earlier decisions to tack a little further out to sea. We really didn’t get until we watched Astral how much of an advantage running just outside the breakers was giving the other boats.


320 tacking duel

Needless to say we fell in step for the last few miles and managed to keep Reverie the First 40.7 behind us to head past the break wall and into the Harbour.

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Arriving at the dock around 9 pm we were pretty tapped out, but immensely satisfied. Our shore crew met us with big smiles, beer and champagne. 

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Reversing into the berth was not my best effort with some of the locals looking on but we got tied up and basically shut the hatch, secured the 3 headsails on deck and figured we would clean up in the morning.

625 Arrival

There was a pretty nasty odour coming from below deck so the vote was unanimous............ to the bar!

Given we were right behind Astral it was no big surprise we ran into our neighbour from our berth back at the RPAYC - Andrew from Austral who had got in a few minutes in front of us.

Given the extended race the presentation had moved to the Monday morning before the Solitary Island race so we had a rum or two and took off back to the apartment for some well-deserved sleep.

In the wash up we were 21st position on the line, and did a little better on handicap correcting into 15th in ORCi and 19th overall in PHS. We learnt a lot and are committed to coming back to put some of that learning into action next year.

Continued in Coffs - Solitary Island Race