It was a tough night on-board Zen during the 180nm Cabbage Tree Island Race; the fourth event in the Sydney Blue Water Pointscore.
Starting in Sydney Harbour on Friday evening, the record fifty-eight yacht fleet put on a spectacular display in the gusty conditions, with the three super maxis scorching their way down the harbour in twenty knot westerly winds. Not much separated the three as they exited the Heads but there was drama aplenty, with Info Track blowing out their reaching spinnaker near Watson's Bay, leading Wild Oats XI and Black Jack to furl theirs around the same time. Closely on their heels, the rest of the fleet were deciding whether to risk hoisting spinnakers in the gusty conditions or whether discretion was the better part of valour; adopting a more conservative approach to the start of the race. Six yachts retired within the first 2 hours, mainly due to gear damage, and the scene was set for a tough night of reaching towards Cabbage Tree Island.
In the TP52 fleet, we were engaged in our own head-to-head battle with Gweilo, which got away to a flyer, sitting right on the heels of the 100 footers' out of Sydney Harbour. With the sou-westerly breeze building to 30-35 knots and gusting higher, many of the record fleet were using this race to test crew and equipment leading into this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. Several yachts had their full Hobart crews on-board, including arch-rival Gweilo; a full dress rehearsal for the famous race.
Shortly after leaving Sydney Heads we fell victim to a spectacular broach that laid the boat flat, similar to many of the yachts who decided to run with a spinnaker in the gusty conditions. As a result, we decided to make a sail change from the A4 down to the A6. While settling the boat down again, we hit a bad wave at the wrong time, ending with extensive sail damage that forced us to drop that sail also. Changing down to a fractional zero (FRO), we were unable to secure it in the lock so were forced to take that down as well. The final straw, that lead to our retirement from the race, was the Vang breaking while we were in the midst of sorting everything else out. Overall, a series of gear failures and a dose of bad luck ultimately forced our decision to withdraw and return to Sydney early without completing the race.
Thankfully, no one was hurt during the process and we were certainly not the only yacht to suffer gear damage overnight. There were six retirements within the first two hours, including Wild Oats XI (structural damage) and Info Track (gear damage). By morning, 15 boats had retired and by race end, 22 of the 58 yachts had withdrawn; the vast majority due to gear damage.
Gweilo had a spectacular race, placing first Overall and in Division 1 across IRC Rating, ORCi Rating and PHS Handicap. With the retirement of both her main rivals in the 100 footers, recently modified Black Jack had an incident free race, finishing just outside the race record, in a time of 13 hours, 30 minutes and 12 seconds.
Coming out of the race, it further highlighted the fine line between success and failure in these high-performance yachts and how critical gear failure can be in the overall outcome. Despite the blustery conditions throughout the evening, it was a long way off the conditions experienced in some of the more treacherous Hobart Races, and a stark reminder that ocean racing can be both exhilarating and dangerous at the same time.
I would like to finish by thanking Gordon Ketelbey for once again allowing me to sail with him on his wonderful boat and the whole team on Zen, for always challenging me to be better. For those many people who have asked me what it's really like sailing on a TP, I have 'borrowed' a YouTube clip from the 52 Super Series which shows some on-board action on similar TP52s'. Definitely not for the faint hearted!