Ten years ago, shortly after moving to Sydney, I literally stepped onto Midnight Rambler, a boat of incredibly experienced offshore sailors, including the skipper and crew from the boat that won tragic 1998 Sydney to Hobart race. I ended up sailing intensively with them for the subsequent seven years before I moved back to Wellington. Hence, when the opportunity arose to re-join many of the crew for the 384 nautical mile from Sydney to Southport, Gold Coast race, I jumped at it – not to mention the opportunity to catch up with my wife in Sydney.
Sydney to Southport is the first in the annual Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s six race Blue Water Point Score series. Being the second to longest race in the series, it always attracts a large fleet, 60+ this year.
I was on Cinquante, a Sydney 36, which feels incredibly small on a start line surrounded by a handful of 100 footers. We had a crew of ten, operating a three hour on, three hour off watch system, with tactician and bow floating. Crews are always diverse, and Cinquante’s was no different, with males and females, kiwis and Aussies, young and old, two single amputees and one hard of hearing. With the winds typically lighter over there than here in Wellington, the masts are typically taller and the sails typically bigger for a given size boat.
With so many boats, and the sunny weather, the buzz on the dock before the race was awesome. The race started at 1pm Saturday, in 0-5 knots variable, which lasted for a good six hours. At one stage it looked like we might beat one of the 100 footers out of the harbour. It took us three hours to get to Manly Beach, something we usually do in about 45 minutes. When the wind finally came, it was from the north, where it stayed for the next 2.5 days, ranging from 5 to 20 knots. Fortunately, Cinquante, as with most of the boats over there, had a bolt rope and double tracks on the forestay rather than hanks. As a result, headsail changes could be done quickly, which meant we were quicker to adjust to wind strength changes than we would have otherwise.
One of the key tactical decisions to make about halfway up the course is whether to go offshore for more wind but your pushing a lot of current, or stay in out of the current in lighter breeze. In the end, we stayed in, and that probably cost us an hour or two.
As the sun rose on Tuesday, the breeze clocked around to the west and then the south, enabling us to finally pop the kite in glorious 5-15 knots all the way to the finish at 5.20pm, more than a day later than the last time I did it. We finished first in the PHS Corinthian series, but otherwise were disappointed to not be further up the fleet overall (IRC is all that matters over there).
As always offshore, some amazing sights, including dolphins, whales, birdlife, shooting stars and the brightest exploding green light meteor I’ve ever seen.
Looking ahead, I’m first reserve for Cinquante’s crew for the next two races in the series. For the final three races of the series, including Sydney to Hobart, I’ll be back on Midnight Rambler and its Sydney based crew and owner Ed Psaltis. I can’t wait!!! Fortunately, the timings work out that I will still be here for most of the fantastic upcoming RPNYC season.
**Come down to the club Friday 26 August and I’ll share some more of my thoughts on my past ten years sailing in Sydney, and a bit of earlier reflections from Andiamo in Wellington.**