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Harken Robben Island Pursuit Race

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Above: Regent Express sporting her new Code Zero spinnaker

7th August, 2010

Race in a nutshell: Frustrating - Abandoned
Total Entries: 36
Distance: 26nm.
Max Speed: 7.6 knots
Ave speed: 3.4 knots
Weather Forecast: Cloudy, no rain. Wind NW 15 to 20 knots. Temp 14C
Weather Actual: Cloudy. No rain. Wind NW 0 to 5 knots - Temp 20C.
Course: 10 - Robben island - 10
Seas: Flat with lots of kelp
Sails: Full Main (Quantum), No.1 Genoa (Quantum), A2 Masthead Asymmetric Spinnaker (North), A0 Fractional Asymmetric spinnaker (Quantum)
Crew: Trygve Roberts (Helm), Charles Crosby (Genoa/Spinnaker), Connor Leech ( Main ), Simon Penso (Pit), Bruce Webber (Mast), Joshua Banks (Bow) - Total: 500 kg

Sponsors Harken, must have been disappointed with the weather gods as five weeks ago when this event was scheduled to be sailed, an unseasonal 30 knot mid-winter south easterly put paid to the day's racing and had to be postponed to August 8 th . Few people understand the enormous amount of organization that goes into such a sponsored event – which includes hot food, live entertainment, prizes, bridge crew, photographers and lots more.

The week preceeding the event the forecasts had been looking good with a 14 knot NW wind still hanging there on Friday night, but Saturday dawned, misty, cloudy and calm. The decision was made to start the race despite the very light conditions of between zero and five knots of breeze. Handicap times were hastily adjusted with the slow boats starting at 10h30. Our start time for this pursuit race was scheduled for 11h18.
Regent Express edging along the eastern shore of Robben Island in 2 knots of wind. The big guy on the stern is either (a) praying or (b) chundering or (c) having a pee.

It was a very long morning as the fleet worked its way slowly up towards Robben island. First the east side of the course paid and then the west. We figured it best to stick to the west side – the direction which the forecast had indicated the wind would swing towards. We worked our way towards the front of the fleet and were looking OK and in the top 5 boats by the time we approached the lighthouse on the southern tip of the island. At that stage we put up our new code zero spinnaker which immediately gave us some extra horsepower and got us even further towards the leading boats.

To windward we had the J27 Pure Magic which had sailed an excellent race to that point. Then we probably picked up some kelp on the keel. It is the only explanation I can think of as to how the J27 suddenly sailed away from us. Not only them, but other boats around us, which we can normally hold off, were also getting through us. That is the agonizing point of decision. Do you stop, reverse the boat to check for kelp? Or will such a maneuver cost you more than the loss in speed with the kelp on? Much easier to write than to do on the boat! We chose to carry on and not stop. In the length of the island we lost about 15 places, so maybe we should have chosen to rather clear the kelp. And it really doesn't dislodge itself either.

Above: An unusual perspective of Lions Head in the clouds with the wreck-strewn northern shore of Robben Island in the foreground. The black spots near the breakers are kelp - the stuff that loves wrapping itself around our keel.

By the time we reached the northern edge of the island, more than half the fleet had already retired, but we soldiered on, being about 15 th around the northern tip. As soon as the angle allowed, we got the code zero up and passed three 40+ footers in the space of 10 minutes. What a lovely sail by Quantum! We then did a beautiful peel change to the big masthead kite and set off in pursuit of the big boats ahead, but during the peel change, the VHF crackled to life with three long blasts of the air horn. Race abandoned!

We decided we would sail back anyway and enjoy the downwind leg, but halfway back, the wind died completely, forcing us to put the motor to work. All the early retirees had scoffed the eats by the time we docked, but clearly, the food was good! Thank you Harken for putting up a great event and here's hoping to better weather next year.