The forecast for the Barton Marine Brothers Island Offshore Race was an interesting one, with a dying south-easterly and later in the evening a transition into the north east. Five competitive yachts were ready to take on the challenge. The script could not have been better for what unfolded in this race – the close game of chess was on.
A downwind start off the Evans Bay Yacht and Motor Boat Club’s start line had some good puffs to get you through the compression zone at Greta Point and slingshot you down the bay, only to go fluky after Shelly Bay. Rascal and Blink went with A2 running sails, with The Guarantee, Laissez Faire II and Gucci all going with symmetric spinnakers. The battle of the 35 footers with Gucci, Rascal and The Guarantee was on.
Rascal crossed us early but then got too close to shore after Shelly Bay and struggled to get deep with the A2 so we got past, and set up for a late drop at Halswell. Gucci and Laissez Faire II caught up for the beat out of the harbour. There had been a lot on and we were only out of Evans Bay. Blink powered up and pulled away from the rest of the fleet. The beat to Moaning Minnie had everyone watching each other’s moves on the large nautical chess board that we had for the race. Out of the harbour it was Blink, Rascal, Laissez Faire II, The Guarantee, then Gucci.
Rascal put up a code zero and started to pull away, but Laissez Faire II was hanging in. On The Guarantee we had to be strategic – Rascal had seven crew, we had three crew so we went into two handed mode with an extra set of hands to help and share the workload.
Just after Sinclair Head Blink hoisted the A2 and was off again. But the rips and wave pattern meant it was collapsing and filling quite a bit, so they weren’t pulling away as fast as we expected. Rascal changed to their A2 at about the same place and we kept the fractional zero on. This was a good move as the sail stayed open and provided plenty of power. We caught and passed Laissez Faire II and Rascal through to Karori. Rascal then passed us after Karori when the Code Zero was removed and replaced by the large masthead symmetric kite. Rascal had to hold up higher as The Guarantee and Laissez Faire II both bore away towards Cape Terawhiti with the symmetrics. Gucci was coming through and was keeping in touch as they put up their largest spinnaker as well.
Blink then withdrew from the race and started heading home. The rest of the fleet kept heading for the Brothers Islands, as the south-easterly strengthened to around 10-12 knots. Laissez Faire II fell into a small hole, reassessed their situation and decided to head home as well. This was looking like a race that would take us well into the night, so the battle of the 35 footers went up a notch. With no big boats left, it was all on. Everyone watched each other’s moves like a hawk to see where the next chess move could be, or where an advantage could be made.
After Cape Terawhiti, we slid away from Rascal on a lower course with a slight speed advantage. This was beautiful sailing with a spectacular sunny afternoon in Cook Strait with had the sounds cranking and all three crew enjoying the sail. The music had been on since we left the marina, and stayed on until after we crossed the finish line when the speaker system went flat.
As the boats got closer to the southern Brother, Arapawa Island had a covering of low cloud that was moving toward the middle of the strait. The wind swung more southwest. As we got close we couldn’t hold high enough with the kite to pass across the island to be able to round the Brothers on the right side and the discussion was what we should put up. How long will it take and how long before we have to get it down? So the decision was to stay with the jib, gybe early and goose wing to the northern Brother and have a clean rounding. Rascal was now chasing us down, as their A2 had come back into its own.
Both boats rounded with a bit of a gap between them. Rascal came out tight on the Brothers, and we went for speed and optimum angle upwind. We knew this was going to be the test of the race at this point. Rascal had seven crew on the rail, so the odds were stacked against us. We changed gear and re-trimmed to get the best setup and push to keep our speed up. Rascal was going high, then low, and we just kept pointing and sailing.
Both boats tacked back in towards the coast just north of Cape Terawhiti. Rascal was pointing higher, but we were faster. Then both tacked and headed south again. As we came out of the rip that was taking us across Otirahanga Bay, Rascal was pointing high and the speed was even between the boats – advantage Rascal. We tacked earlier and headed towards Karori Rock. We could see Gucci coming down chasing us on the beat and Rascal had tacked well south of us. Once past Karori Rock we had to tack to get south again to be able to pass Thom’s Rock.
We went straight in a rip that was boiling with big overfalls and massively confused. We were trying hard to keep the boat moving and avoid slamming too much but we had some big slams through there. Rascal had tacked to cover and get south as well. The waves were hammering them, they lost boat speed and got forced to tack back. We were still heading south and noticed that the waves were going to start reducing if we kept heading south further, so we kept going. Once in flatter water south of the worst of the rip, we tacked back. Rascal was a lot closer in and struggling in what looked like a bit of a wind hole. But we both had tide under us pushing us through on the magic carpet ride. We passed Rascal again, but things got tricky as the wind started to really drop out.
Both tacked out again to get south off Sinclair Head. Now it was about avoiding cray pots for a bit. It was just on dark and the buoys were going under water in the waves of the rip, so the trick was to make sure you kept clear of them. Then we tacked back and the really light fluky sailing started. Gucci was still coming through and this was their time to catch up.
The next few hours were painful and tedious, but we had to keep concentrating and pushing. Our boat speed was really zeros, but the speed over the ground was one to two knots. So when was the breeze going to build into something we could really sail on? Whenever we tacked we were tacking through anything up to 180 degrees as we struggled across towards the harbour entrance.
Rascal tacked on to a really horrible angle heading back towards the airport and was hardly moving, and we were still heading east. Then it was time to radio Beacon Hill and get updates of shipping and wind at number one leading light – didn’t sound good – a northeastly of three gusting four knots!
Rascal had tacked back, and now had the inside at Moaning Minnie – a good move on their part. Both boats entered the channel and proceeded to tack their way up. Gucci then radioed Beacon Hill to advise they were about to enter the harbour – they had certainly caught up! We knew they were well in contention for the handicap win, and we had to keep an eye on them.
The breeze built to six – seven knots as we came up the harbour. Once past Halswell it started to lighten slightly and the reach angle didn’t help. As we entered the inner harbour it shut down further. This made the last bit to the finish very painful but we were catching Rascal again. They decided to go for the fractional zero but made a bit of a cluster of it, and so took time to get working. We were getting closer… then the wind dropped out completely and we ran out of moves.
So after thirteen and a quarter hours of racing Rascal and The Guarantee crossed the finish line 3 minutes apart, with Gucci about half an hour behind them. This gave Gucci the win on club and PHRF handicaps – well done to the well sailed crew on Gucci.
The Cook Strait Race is up next and these three 35 footers are looking forward to the next battle of on the water chess. May the thrilling and exciting racing continue in the Barton Marine Offshore Championship.