For many years we had raced Flying Machine in the Port Nich Y88 fleet, and then moved to a bigger boat when we bought Xanadu II, a round bilge Spencer 40. She had always been a Wellington boat, and held the Wellington Akaroa record for many years until Chain Reaction, an Elliot 1050, took it off her. So she is a good sea boat with few vices, a moderate rig and an easily driven hull.
And so, I started to look for more sailing challenges, and ended up taking her around the North Island twice and the South Island once. Fiordland in your own boat was stunning – everyone should aspire to do that trip.
After that the Trans Tasman race caught my eye. I had never sailed singlehanded before, so it seemed a worthy challenge. I read a lot of books, and upped the equipment level on the boat to incude a drogue and parachute anchor and radar. I did a series of 3-4 day jaunts into Cook Strait and beyond to understand how I and the boat would cope. Apart from having to cope with chronic seasickness at the start, that all went OK.
And so to the start in Easter 2007. There was a mixed fleet that varied from a 50ft Bavaria down to a 35ft ferro boat. They were all sailed by their owners – there were no rockstar skippers to be seen.
The race itself was light to start with, with a southerly front coming through mid Tasman to liven things up, and then light again as a high off Brisbane caught us in its grip.The southerly was fun. I had a max of 50kts on my instruments, but some of the others had 70kts. The sea state was quite manageable at that stage because the southerly had a very long fetch, meaning we were reaching across the face of some very large waves which were widely spaced. That was fine until we reached the breaking water on the crest – but there was generally enough time to duck inside and avoid getting too wet. The boat would be totally immersed in this foaming aerated water for a few moments, then shake it off and continue rushing on until the next crest hit. The boat went well in those conditions. For two consectutive days, I had the best noon to noon distance figures.
After that it got very light. I remember how the water was a very deep deep blue when it was calm, and went for a swim around the boat just to say I had done it. But I did keep my harness on!
I managed to keep going through the light to finish second in the singlehanded class. One boat finished an hour behind me, but the next boat after that was 24 hrs behind, with the rest of the fleet well and truly caught by the high. Xanadu was a bit sticky in the light, so I was lucky I got a good boost from the southerly front when it came through.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. My position in the fleet was never a big deal to me – I was just so pleased that I had got there. I had no fancy electronics or sat phones or routing software on board – I just used the HF radio to download NZ and Aust weather maps each day. And I kept my sail invenory very simple.No spinnaker although I did have a gennaker that could be doused wth a sock. I didnt try to be heroic and change headsails on the furler – I had a heavy duty slightly overlapping genoa on all the time.