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Newcastle Bass Island Race

The third race of the Blue Water Pointscore is the 215nm Newcastle Bass Island, which is used by some competitors as a qualifying race to the Rolex Sydney Hobart and by others as a chance to fine-tune rig, sail and crew selection before the iconic race on Boxing Day. The race starts on a Friday evening at 7pm near Point Piper with the fleet heading north to a rounding mark 2nm north east of Nobbys Head; a headland located on the southern entrance to Newcastle Harbour. The fleet then race south to Bass Island, just south of Flinders Islet off Woollongong, before making their way back north to the finish line in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney Harbour.

I was fortunate to get an invitation once again to crew on Gordon Ketelbey's Zen, the TP52 that I was lucky enough to race on for the Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island Race Weeks' in August. As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I love racing on this boat. Not only for the exhilaration and sheer thrill these high performance yachts provide, but also the great bunch of people on-board. Ocean racing is very much a team sport, requiring everyone to fulfill their role as part of an overall team strategy, and I continue to learn every time I get the opportunity to jump on-board. The boat preparation, sail selection and rig tuning play a critical part but you need to not only trust the people that you sail with but also enjoy the event.

The Newcastle Bass Island Race proved to be particularly difficult, with ever changing conditions along the New South Wales coastline creating a nightmare for navigators and tacticians. Throughout the first night, there were a lot of rain clouds bringing torrential rain, with dramatic wind shifts and changes in pressure followed by periods of no wind at all. The further north we got the lighter the breeze became, allowing the boats behind to close the gap while crews at the front worked feverishly to gain any advantage and extend their lead.

We all thought the leg back to Bass Island would be just as tricky and so it proved. On the way south the seaway was all over the place adding to the challenge for boats and crews. Overall positions changed constantly in the early hours of the morning with yachts that were able to avoid the holes literally sailing right on by doing 10 knots while we were becalmed only a few hundred metres away. It was incredibly frustrating and forms part of the allure of ocean racing and the reason you keep coming back; nothing is ever certain until you cross the finish line. Unfortunately, still north of Sydney, we experienced gear failure with the tack clip failing. The headstay foil fell overboard and we were unable to continue. Returning to Sydney Harbour, like every ocean race, you learn from the experience and hope to come back stronger and better prepared the next time. At least it didn't happen in the Hobart!

Congratulations to Matt Allen and his team on the TP52 Ichi Ban, taking another win in the Blue Water Pointscore and continuing their dominant form after winning the previous race of the series and coming second in the first. David Griffith and his Chinese Whisper team, in the Jedel-Vrolijk 62, took line honours for a second time. Unfortunately for us, we come away without a result but live to fight another day in race four - the 175nm Cabbage Tree Island Race starting Friday 8th November. Despite having to retire and the inclement weather, I enjoy being on-board every time and with luck I might get invited back for the next one.

Thanks to Gordon, Shane and the whole team on Zen. I always learn a lot and relish every chance I get. Next weekend I am back on 'baby' Zen, the Farr 40, for the first regatta of the Farr 40 2019/20 season. Another awesome boat - another great opportunity to learn - another great team (although some familiar faces off the 'big boat' as well).

Stay tuned.....

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