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Portugal Day Race - 9th June, 2012

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The Google image above with Regent Express's GPS track superimposed clearly shows the convergence zone troubles and the very tactical windshifts coming up along the beach upwind.

Course: Start #10(S) – laid mark off Mouille Point (S) – Laid mark off Celi1 wreck [S] – Mlnerton [S] – Paarden island (S) - No.10 (S)/Finish
Wind & Seas: Mod S (0 to 15 knots). Temp: 14C. Seas flat
Sails: Full Main (Quantum); No.1 Genoa (Quantum); A-2 Spinnaker (North); A1 Spinnaker (Quantum; A0 Spinnaker (Quantum) Crew: Eerhardt Joubert, Craig Preston, Charles Crosby, Phillip Rentschler, Trygve Roberts
Total Mass: 415 kg
Max Speed: 9.3 knots
Distance: 15.6 nm
Position : 11th
Fleet size: 51

The traditional Portuguese band entertained sailors after the racing.

Viva Portugal!
This event is one of the top 3 day races RCYC has on offer. It remains enormously popular, because it has the magic mix of ingredients that drive good races. An interesting course + pursuit format + good, free food and booze, music and a party after racing + good organization are what makes things work. Vitor Medina is the main mover behind the scenes that makes this event happen, assisted by the inimitable and often vocal, Manuel Mendes. Some of the top Portuguese businesses in Cape Town support the event loyally year after year. This year was another bumper entry with some 60 yachts entered. That is a remarkable number of entries, considering that a Saturday afternoon club race will typically struggle to attract double figures. If one adds a seriously big cold front which swept over the Peninsula during the preceding week, bringing snow and plummeting temperatures, which would normally keep most sailors warm and dry in front of a fire at home, into the mix, then one realizes that people take this event seriously. And God bless the organizers, they allow spinnakers to be used (as should be the case in all events). It's a bit like saying you can race your car, must you may not engage the turbo charger. I heard a number of people complaining about the rather stiff entry fee, which seemed high for a well sponsored event. I cant comment more on that. I am merely mentioning it.

Six teams of traditional Portuguese Seafarers
Boats are shuffled into six teams and scores are totaled to produce a winning team. This year it was the Fernao Magalhaes team that took the top prize. But its not just about team racing, as individual scores also count and the first five boats qualify for trophies. The big smiles come from the crew of the boat that takes line honours though, and this year it was Patrick Holloway and his team on the J133 DHL Speed of Yellow that managed to hold off Windpower for a hard fought victory. Our team (Pedro Alvares Cabral) came second last with the consolation being that we were at least the best placed boat in our team!

A serious cold front
Saturday morning still had the last remnants of the major front that passed through Cape Town, producing some showers and very cold temperatures, but with the spirit of Diaz smiling on Vitor and his team, the clouds cleared later in the morning to produce a nice day for sailing. The 6 meter swells that had been forecast, miraculously disappeared and Table Bay looked fairly close to being inviting, but there was one problem – the wind was southerly, and with that direction coupled with a light wind strength, we have our old friend (the convergenze zone) to deal with. That is cast in stone.

A lot of effort had been put into the course and it had clearly been based on a westerly wind. Being such a popular and high profile event, the course cards and entries need to be sorted out well ahead of the actual event, and sometimes produces severe problems with the course. Having a breeze almost 45 degrees different to the one planned, meant the fleet had to sail right into the mountain's wind shadow and that is really not enjoyable. It makes a mockery of skill levels and the race becomes a lottery as boats bob around stationary just meters from each other. This problem can be resolved quite easily, by having three or four pre-planned courses of equal length - one for each of the prevailing winds. All of them can be printed before hand and inserted into the skipper packs. The correct course for the prevailing wind of the day can then be announced at the skippers briefing. I also noted that there was no option for shortening course, which I thought was a high risk move. That would have been a real blinder for the sponsors if the breeze had died, which it very easily can in the month of June. Well, I guess fortune favours the bold. To solve that problem, all that needs to be done is to have a bridge boat start. Having the bridge crew on land can and does cause many problems for the racing fleet. It is something that I hope, the incumbent sailing committee will pay attention to.

Round and round the yellow mark
Our start was scheduled for 12h41 and we were very close to being late. The start was really easy with only four boats in our time slot. We approached the line on port and popped the kite (code zero) right on the gun. We were the only boat of the four that started on time and immediately got involved in some good downwind sailing, but we essentially had the wrong spinnaker up. Up ahead, we could see boats struggling to hold spinnakers, so although we were underpowered, we stuck it out. We worked our way onto the landward side of Granger Bay, but the breeze was getting very light and the traffic was getting heavy. We were running out of water and those ponderous rollers that seem to rear up out of the sea at Green Point were starting to look a little scary, so we threw in a gybe, which put us on starboard and immediately caused pandemonium as we started calling rights on all the big, heavy boats that were barely moving. There was a distinct reluctance by anyone attempting to keep clear of us. We were fairly certain that was going to be reality, so we hotted up our angle and went behind a half dozen boats, found a nice sized gap, and gybed back onto port. That gave us just enough gas to keep our nose out in front of the group as we headed back towards Mouille Point and then the wind died completely, leaving everyone wallowing in the great big Portugal Day park-up. It was always going to happen with that course.

Lady Luck
We were just lucky to be where we were. A fresh hint of breeze came in from the west and we were amongst the first to benefit from it. That was probably the best break we had in the race. The Melges 24 was just ahead of us. We enjoy sailing against them as the two boats are fairly evenly matched. Once we got around the first mark, we hoisted our A1 spinnaker, then gybed early onto starboard and worked our way over towards the east to pick up the southerly, but it was slow and painful stuff. We had spent most of the race in the close company of the big cat, Isla, and whatever we tried, they always seemed to appear somewhere close to us. After another 15 minutes of flopping around in almost no breeze, we took the big kite down and did a two sail fetch, whilst we sent our bowman below to switch to the Code Zero.

Handling the very tight fetch with the flat code zero

Once we had the flat kite up, things went much better, although trimming on the waves was difficult with huge switches in apparent wind as the boat speed would range between 6 and 9 knots, but at least we were holding our own and we had at least managed to drop the big cat in the process. The Melges was struggling to hold their height with a big masthead kite and we were gradually reeling them in. This should have been a leg where we would normally have had a speed advantage, but the sea state and wind angle were just not compatible with our boat, as we begrudgingly watched the log seldom going over 8.5 knots. We were able to carry our kite all the way to the Celi mark and did a good strike in preparation for a very long beat back up to Paarden island via Milnerton buoy.

Disadvantage becomes advantage
Strange as it may seem, despite the upwind legs not being good for sports boats, this is where we actually faired reasonably well. We picked up some lovely shifts and short tacked up the beach, making considerable gains on competitors. A short ABF rain squall came through and gave us a bit of rain and stronger breeze, but it didn't last long. We were back into a steady 12 knot breeze and probably in about 20th place when we passed the Milnerton mark. Some of the big boats had caught us quite easily. A-L (Farr 38) which had started at the same time as us, and whom we had been able to stay in touch with downwind, had caned us upwind and were a very long way ahead of us. We were still working our way through some of the slower boats which had somehow escaped the big parkup in the beginning. Once around Paarden Island buoy, we got the A1 kite up again and had a fairly quick reach through to the finish, being able to pass one more boat, to finish in 11th place.

The crew on the Farr 38 A-L, doing an unsually bad spinnaker strike

We were actually quite happy with that placing, considering the nature of the course and our new, higher handicap imposed recently by the rating committee. That was a bit like a petrol price increase with the feeling of “Gee whizz, isn't the price already too high?” but like most good citizens, we just grin and bear it. Its all just supposed to be about having fun,right?

The shed was beautifully decorated in the green and red colours of Portugal and a good group of musicians were set up to provide a great evening's entertainment with good food and a never ending supply of wine and beer. This is a really good event. With a bit of tweaking it can be even better. Well done to Vitor and his team.

Full results van be viewed here:
Individual results
1st DHL Speed of yellow (J133)
2nd Windpower (Landmark43)
3rd A-L (Farr 38)
4th After You (L41)
5th Warlock (L26)
6th Pants on Fire (J105)
7th Docksafe (A35)
8th Naledi (J120)
9th Farmed (Muira)
10th Maestro (Fast42)
11th Regent Express (Pacer 27 S)
12th Impact (Impact)
13th Cabaray (Stadt34)
14th Melges 24 (M24)
15th Necessity (Ben 33.4)
16th Spilhaus (Swede 55)
17th JML (L26)
18th Majimoto (Farr 40)
19th Wallbanger (Sim 35)
20th Freedom (Farr 38)
21st Ichy Da (Muira)
22nd Vulcan (GP42)
23rd Spirit of Victory (Astove30)
24th Hillbilly (J27)
25th Aurora (Atlantic49)
26th Tally Ho (L34)
27th Chen (Muira)
28th Pure Magic (J27)
29th Touch n Go
30th Celine 4
31st Lapwing (L34)
32nmd Ava (Muira)
33rd Nuthr witch (L34)
34th Isla (Cat)
35th Indaba (Stadt 34)
36th Sungazer
37th Argonaut
38th Pimento
39th Carousal
40th Derbigum
41st Sizwe
42nd Storm (Ocean 31)
43rd FTi Flyer (Charger 33)
8 boats retired