Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race 2011
Story by Andrew Stransky
As the gun went, only the lightest north-east breeze propelled the multihulls on the 308 mile race to Gladstone. Cut Snake won the start from AYS Raider and Fantasia as the 15 strong fleet began a slow work out of Waterloo Bay. Would the multi's stand a chance against the 50 strong monohull fleet with the 30m Lahana challenging for a NSW victory? Would our big cruising cat be able to keep up with this high quality fleet? The race was on!
A slight increase in wind pressure saw us beating north past Mud Island, out Moreton Bay into the clean waters off Tangalooma. Boats tacked in all directions, attacking the wind on wildly differing angles. Soon the fleet spread out with the crew on Fantasia excited by the good start but hampered in the light airs by carrying only a blade jib. Shortly before the first sked the breeze moved a whisker to the east and we began to build some boat speed, 10/11 knots. Due to our light air start Lahana, Black Jack the 66 foot mini Maxi and Hooligan the TP52 8 tonne star performer from Sydney had taken a march on us sporting awesome light wind sails. The monohull division were in their element making good speed in the fickle light air-stream as we converged upon them.
Now we began to notice becalmed yachts ahead and some sailing high to stay in the wind. As it began to fill in we bore down on the gate for the Spitfire channel feeling elated to be getting some small breeze. Suddenly the wind died off and we noticed Boss Racing almost becalmed trying to head back south but struggling against the out-going tide to round the red marker. It became apparent that we were in danger of joining Attitude, Big Wave Rider, Wild Spirit and Wilparina all trying to get back to this vital point of the course. Anxious moments were felt while the wind fizzled on everyone.
Now the light northeaster rallied and we set our kites for the run down channel with the entire fleet from Raider to Catalina separated by mere boat lengths. We jostled in bunches along with a variety of monohulls from the Volvo 60 Nikon to Carats 'n' Kilos and a host of Farr 40's sailing impressively in the light conditions. Just ahead of us Big Wave Rider skippered by Bruce Arms with a formidable crew, including none other than Jessica Watson, gybed while we hung on with Renaissance and Rhythmic, but soon everyone was gybing and we realised we had to harden up to clear another red. It was a tight gybe here with the darkness beginning to set.
We rounded with Free Spirit, Renaissance and Big Wave Rider while our onboard photographer captured the glorious artworks that adorn this story. Every boat in the fleet is digitally revealed showing just how close the pack was as darkness fell, leaving only groups of lights floating on the dark horizon. “The low rating boats are going to win this race!” said I, thinking of Rhythmic, Catalina and No Problem still all at close quarters. Strangely we soon lost track of where our rivals were, like trying to remember where a card lies on a table. Our faulty wind instrument would not help us in employing the right downwind angles as we spent a frustrating time running too deep in the dying breeze. A collapsing kite the only reward for our efforts as we struggled down channel.
By the time we reached Caloundra's fairway mark a light land breeze began to influence us and we gybed only to spot a white kite bearing down on us shooting for the marker and vying for the same piece of water. Like pirates in the night Trumpcard came alongside trying to force us above the mark calling all sorts of racing rules. We countered this attack by pleading collision avoidance thus avoiding trouble and hardened up into the light westerly breeze. Now we settled into steady sailing hoping to see the last of dying air. By the midnight sked we were creaming along just north of Moololaba and by the Saturday 3.00 am sked the lights of Noosa bore due west as we passed the MYCQ commodore's Renaissance a Schionning Waterline 14.8m.
Some hours before dawn we closed with the beach south of Double Island Point along with a cluster of nav lights. “Gybe ho” and onto starboard tack, out to sea the breeze began to fill in from the south-east proper. A clear morning dawned allowing us to make out the black kite of Wild Spirit, so we hotted up our angle and passed them to windward revealing Big Wave Rider, who we gradually edged up on. We could see Akimbo further inshore, Cut Snake to windward and the fancy sails of Attitude pressing from behind.
Spirits rose aboard as a nice swell built and Fantasia began to surf some clean blue water waves. Towards noon we hit our top speed of 24.8 knots and had Bruce Arms Big Wave Rider not far ahead. Bruce is using the race as a warm up for his Solo Around Australia Record challenge and is a rising star in our growing multihull world so we felt in fine company. At this point I noticed our VMG was poor on the tighter angles so we began to square up and still made good speed. Big Wave Rider gybed and we probably should have but sailed on offshore content with our progress. Anxious hours followed as we began to notice up to 2 knots of current affecting our speed.
After lunch we plucked up courage to gybe the big kite in the fresh wind and headed toward Break Sea Spit, doubtful of our fate. Lack of experience urged me to continue running broad which led to a fair amount of kite collapsing, nevertheless we sighted Big Wave Rider not far ahead angling back out to sea. Then close into the spit, we crossed ahead of Free Spirit. Running along the shallow edge of the spit we admired the glorious aqua blue sea, suddenly there was a sharp bang from the helm station. In a cold sweat I peered in to see the 5mm wire cable holding on with one strand left.
Quickly the crew dropped the kite as I desperately rummaged around for a solution. Luckily I had some other wire which I threaded through and cut to length, making a back splice shown to me by the old sea dog Colin Usmer from the The White Horse of Kent who had said “This could save your life one day!”. Well it saved our race and we upped the kite once again and set off in pursuit of Big Wave Rider.
This year the traditional VHF sked was replaced by Sat phones, unfortunately these proved unreliable so we had very little idea how the fleet lay. Luckily with the racing so tight our visual contact gave us some reference. Soon we realised we could not lay Lady Elliot by running deep and powered the kite up. On reflection here lies the biggest lesson we learned from the race, when trying to make the best VMG downwind in a multihull one should power the kite up to the point where the boat starts to zoom and neither power up too far past this zone or bear away too square.
In pursuing our gybing angles around Lady Elliot we made up ground on Big Wave Rider as we set off on the final leg across the “paddock”. Already we had been racing for 34 hours and we all felt tired. This led us to drop the kite as the breeze gusted up to 20 knots. We hardened up under plain sail and made fine speed, while the others carried their kites into the freshening breeze and must have flown. After an hour we picked up courage to hoist the kite and began ourselves to fly towards Gladstone, humming steadily along at high speeds, feeling the shelter of Hervey Bay.
Rapidly we bore down on the marked entrance of the channel and noticed the lights of another boat converging on us. We were a bit amazed to identify the white starred kite of our close rivals in the Surf to City race Free Spirit. Hopes of a nice relaxing finish evaporated as we hardened our resolve for the duel ahead. We entered the gate about 10 boat lengths ahead but they quickly cut it down to 5 with some nippy pace to windward. Now we began to match their pace and held them astern, yet they showed signs of rapid acceleration and took us to windward off Gatcombe head. Fighting back with some good navigation we took them again and in the confined inner channels could comfortably hold off Free Spirit by running deep with the kite hauled round to the windward hull.
Several miles from the finish we noticed another yacht we were rapidly catching and our hopes were high of gaining another place. The crew on Cut Snake must have seen us bearing down on them as they hoisted a kite. In the excitement of such a close finish we believed we had to take the big yellow beacon to port and tried to pass Cut Snake to leeward. Our speed was good and we did edge in front but here our wind was blanketed and Free Spirit powered high to cross the line inshore while we floundered in the last seconds to see both boats beat us narrowly to the line.
Feeling a bit stunned by this turn of events but elated to have arrived after such a challenging race, we were greeted with the traditional case of beer and the marina staff efficiently guided us into a berth. Now we could relax and reflect on our race. Tenth over the line did not seem so good, but we were only seconds out from two champions Cut Snake and Free Spirit. Big Wave Rider was 11 minutes ahead, Wild Spirit 18 mins, Akimbo 43 mins, Cynaphobe 50, Wilparina 76 and 3hrs 32 mins to Boss Racing. AYS Raider won by employing a starboard advantage as these two open decked speed machines sparred with each other in the approaches to Gladstone.
By the time our crew was showered and rested we began to feel pretty good about our result, only 4 monohulls had beaten us and we finished 4th on OMR. Rhythmic who finished 1st on OMR is now on a rare hat-trick with Gordon Meyers Escapade the only boat to have achieved this remarkable feat. Our own “Nick Lyons, for his indefatigable energy and enthusiasm in tackling every job this intense race presented and his joy and gusto at surfing waves in a big cat!” won the most valuable crew member. All our crew press-ganged from Russell Island, including school teacher, Liam Tucker and photographer, Darren Soper who hit our top speed, steered faultlessly with never a hint of mutiny. As we met up with crews from other yachts we realised the depth of experience we had been competing against, all adding to a feeling of satisfaction. Gladstone marina, has grown more beautiful over the years with its handsome boardwalk and parkland bustling with BBQers and tourists, giving the race a festive conclusion, yet the party had only just begun. Up at Yellow Patch after the yachts had loaded on their cruising gear, Mike Hodges'Renaissance was awash with the crew from Wilparina, Attitude, Rhythmic andFree Spirit, a host of multihull legends exultant with their efforts.
High spirits flowed and some very posh wine was savoured with the likes of Rob Remilton, Phil Day, Bob Peberdy and Allan Larkin as we relived the glories and defeats of the race. Renaissance chef, John Barclay soothed the wine with a tasty pasta dish and talked of the wine he is making with more passion than a man could discuss his yacht. NSW Multihull legend Steve Barton called for some music and got more than he bargained for as Mike delighted in showing off his wicked Bose sound system stirring some salty sailors into a jig.
Next morning saw us rather nervously riding the trolley car up to Cape Capricorn Lighthouse for a spot of sightseeing before most boats moved on. Only Free Spirit remained at anchor and they showed us their mud crabbing prowess, which was more amusing then you may imagine. While we savoured a fine meal on board Fantasia, washed down with Bob's vintage wine, Geoff Cruise mentioned that Wild Spirit was going in the Yeppoon to Mackay Race. Now a seed was planted in my mind and the next day we took our chance, sailed to Rosslyn Bay and entered yet another classic coastal race.
Rafting up in front of the delightfully friendly Capricorn Cruising Yacht Club we enjoyed a BBQ and feasted our eyes on the history that adorns the old clubhouse walls. At the race briefing we learnt the strong south-east winds had stopped most of the Mackay boats from arriving. To remain a Cat 3 race it has been re-routed inside Percy Islands making it a tactically demanding downwind gybing affair. We stole a march on the locals at the start by heading out to sea into a fresher breeze then gybing back to be first around the leeward mark off Yeppoon town. From here we took off downwind and led Wild Spirit all the way to Middle Percy Island where to our despair they passed narrowly ahead of us.
With only my partner and our 12 year old daughter having to handle the huge asymmetric kite, they had to work hard in getting the whole business around time after time as we fought on. With the breeze a bit fresh I was reluctant to try a kite gybe, which meant socking the kite, dropping it and re-hoisting it on the other gybe, no small feat. Our hard work paid off as we regained the lead and began to pull away, eventually arriving in Mackay 45 minutes ahead of Wild Spirit, to record our first line honours win.
Racing adds another dimension to the cruising life. Complying with the safety rules means your boat is equipped to the highest degree. Now we are cruising north to take on the Darwin to Ambon Race, always tuning up our ship to go that little bit faster and to have even more fun.