THE FAIRWAY CHALLENGE
By Andrew Stransky
After last year's storm blown race when all the multis retired, we are determined to conquer the Fairway Challenge in 2015. The race seems cursed as cyclone Marcia wreaks havoc with the weather, resulting in a postponement. Rescheduled for March the 21st, we begin to wonder if we will ever get around this course.
Race day dawns somewhat overcast with a promising NE breeze setting race flags streaming. The usual flurry of last minute jobs seems never ending and then our cameraman Peter Baker arrives with our new crew uniforms. Fancy long sleeved, white collared shirts emblazoned with our equipment suppliers and the newly formed Seven Seas Catamarans logo, salmon coloured shorts and tailored hats are strewn everywhere as the crew sort out their correct sizes. Chaos reigns, tasks are abandoned and I fear we'll never reach the start line!
My skipper's concerns are unfounded as we have plenty of time to trial our new screecher, built from carbon fibres and surfaced with Spread Light material. The Saxbys from UK Halsey have done a beautiful job in designing and building the sail but the crew have no time to admire sail-making's highest art, as I drive them into a kite set and a few gybes to be race ready.
The first section of this race up to the Fairway mark mirrors the crucial beginning of the Brisbane to Gladstone Race, so it is surprising that only 7 of the 17 B2G multihull contenders line up for this test. It's their loss though and the race is to prove an excellent shakedown. The Pearl Challenge fleet set off at 10am, while the Fairway Challenge monohull fleet start at 11am. At 11.25 there is much discussion on how to tackle the downwind start and suddenly the heat is on.
Using iRegatta for the first time, linked into a Brookhouse Multiplexer, which Wi-fis all our instrument data to a tablet, I can see clearly I am too early for the line. A quick bear away saves us and the race is under way. Having started downwind at the committee boat end on port gybe, Hasta La Vista, Renassiance and Rushour make the best starts. Chillpill comes in late on starboard but is unable to hinder Fantasia or Catalina who startat the pin end on port. Free Spirit is having kite problems, which sees them last to start.
The opening sprint section is held close inshore so spectators on the Redcliffe Peninsular can take in the action. With a bottle of rum awarded for the first boat around, no one is giving an inch. We gybe early inshore to entertain the spectators and avoid the tide, passing behind Hasta and Rennasiance but ahead of Chillpill. Rushour gybe right ahead, sending us dirty air as we try to soak below them. Close inshore it is getting shallow so we gybe back laying the first mark.
Hasta La Vista beat us there but the reaching leg is very tight, trying to carry their kite only drags them off course. Hot on our heels Renaissance and Chillpill are making a Rushour sandwich, clambering for the best mark rounding.
There is some confusion over the final mark as it is not laid as per the sailing instructions but fortunately I have a phobia of over-laying the windward mark and tack early out of habit. Binoculars reveal we already have to free up to lay this mark, while Renaissance and Chillpill persist in duelling on the wrong tack. Hasta La Vista have tacked early but in the freshening NE breeze, Fantasia stretches her legs to take first blood and the rum.
Now comes the 10 mile leg out to the M8, hard on the wind. Chillpill, with her considerably lighter weight and more sail area peg us back in what is developing to be an impressive cat fight for line honours. Several fishing boats innocently anchored close to the M8 are about to see two 50' cats and a 57' mono squeeze past them. Fantasia is metres from Chillpill's transoms and to make matters worse, the Hanse 57 forces Chillpill wide, where she takes out some fishing lines, while we are able to duck inside the Hanse, gaining some height.
Intent on following Chillpill we overlay the M9 and then the drag race 22 miles down channel begins, sheets just cracked a fraction. The modest monohull fleet is already behind us. As the NE breeze freshens to 12/15 knots, we match that and more in boat speed. Chillpill pull away initially, then we winch up the windward centreboard and get in the groove to claw a fraction back.
On the 3 mile beat out to the Fairway mark the seas become quite steep and Chillpill rounds only 2 minutes ahead. They roll out a screecher, while we hoist a kite, sailing deeper we soon begin to haul them back. They cross us 30 seconds ahead as we see Free Spirit slogging upwind. Our deeper gybing angles soon place us ahead of Chillpill and then we realise they have missed a mark of the course. Renassiance and Hasta La Vista work out to the Fairway mark, and with her lower performance handicap, Renaissance looks a threat. Rushour trail them narrowly and could pull back if the NE breeze holds.
We break the news to Chillpill over VHF and soon they are hard on the wind heading back to the missed mark, while we storm straight down the rhum line at 16 knots and more. What could have been a nail biting cat fight seems all over with that mistake. Just after the M3 the breeze begins to die as an extensive thunderstorm over the land sucks away the wind. Feeling vulnerable, we make slow progress yet it seems everyone is losing the wind.
With Tangalooma in sight, we pick up a nice SE breeze and things look rosy as it takes us all the way past the M8. On the final run to the finish, rumbling sheet lightning heralds a deepening storm, which sucks away all the wind again. Flopping about we peer back at a distant navigation light, while the crew do their best, keeping up a banter of good humour. This is all too reminiscent of the Surf to City, where we lost the breeze a few miles short of the line and watched our chances fade in frustration. On the bright side, this time we hold all the cards.
After an hour of dismal progress a SW squall lights up our new screecher and we rip up the final miles, before a scary line squall sees us wisely trading it for the jib. Crossing the line in heavy rain we take the honours, with Chillpill 22 minutes back. Fantasia carries her steep performance handicap of 0.97, denying Renaissance a performance handicap win by a tantalising 3 minutes. Chillpill score 3rd which sees them taking the lead on the MYCQ Ocean Point Score.
Everyone at the Moreton Bay Boat Club is impressed with the growing multihull fleet and the commodore suggests making a multihull trophy for next year. For the time being we are happy to walk away with a case of beer, Bunderberg rum, Wild Oat's wine and a cheque for $250. Fantasia once again proved her exceptional design, her economical build still able to outpace the high tech G-Force Chillpill. With the formation of Seven Seas Catamarans, imagine the possibility of a lighter high tech Fantasia, foil assisted, with a carbon mast, next generation wing sails and pure solar electric drives to take multihull development on its next journey.