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Robben Island Race.

Last updated on 16 January 2010

Race in a nutshell: 

Position PHRF: 8th from 39 
Total Entries: 39 (22 finishers/17 retired) 
Distance: 21.5nm. 
Max Speed: 19.3 knots 
Ave speed: 5.3 knots 
Weather Forecast: Clear. Wind South East 10 to 15 knots. Temp 33C 
Weather Actual: {Read the story} 
Course: 10 (S) – Robben Island (P) - 10 (P) 
Seas: Choppy with long period swell of 2.0m becoming 5.0m on the west side of the island. 
Sails: Full (North), No. 1 Genoa (Quantum), R1 Asymmetric Spinnaker. (Quantum) 
Crew: Trygve Roberts (Helm), Charles Crosby (Main), Greg Harrowsmith (Genoa), Phillip Rentschler (Pit), Daniel Spratley (Mast) Simon Penso (Bow), Total: 505 kg

Above: Proof of our maximum speed spike at 19.3 knots. During that section we covered 138 meters in 15 seconds at an average speed of 18 knots. Get a Pacer 27 and start flying!

During the past five years I have raced many Round Robben Island races. Those sailed during the summer months invariably produce almost identical weather patterns. The race sailed on Saturday was no exception. Let me explain…… 

When the wind is from the south and not quite strong enough to get over the top of the bulk of Table Mountain it sweeps around either side, producing two very different wind systems – a strong south easterly on the east side and a moderate westerly on the west side. Between these two systems lies a convergence zone of calm weather. Tactically skippers have to decide whether to go screaming down the beach in the south easter and risk trying to get through the convergence zone further north, near the island, or sail slower in the westerly, but on a more direct course. Coming back to the finish means the whole fleet has to cross the convergence zone a second time. So, in essence, we race to the north side of the island where the parking lot takes over and the race starts all over again. Then the same happens one mile from the finish line! There is an element of luck in who gets the rotors washing down from the mountain and who doesn’t. 

At the start area the south easter could be seen tantalizingly close – white caps and a full 30 knots of it as well, whilst the 39 strong fleet flopped about listlessly in a very light westerly which faded to nothing every few minutes. The course had been set to sail a short, one leg beat up to the Paarden Island mark, and then put spinnakers up and head for the island. The first start was a mess. There were boats sailing directly towards each other on the same tack, in two different breezes. When the south easterly reached the fleet with 30 seconds to go, it was a frenzy of activity, as most of the boats were over canvassed and on their ear – us included. We recovered quickly and managed to get excellent speed with the No.1 Genoa doing most of the work. We were holding our own with the big boats and looked good to reach the weather mark in the top 8 boats, until we heard the radio squawk and the race officer call the fleet back for a general recall. 

The next start was scheduled for 10 minutes later. This time the south easter withdrew 200 meters to the east whilst the fitful westerly faded away to nothing. With half the fleet on the wrong side of the line, the race officer decided to blow that start as well. A new course was announced, eliminating the Paarden Island mark. The third start was successful and we found ourselves in a good spot near the pin, as the breeze faded to almost nothing. We were the third boat over the line, right at the pin – where we wanted to be. We watched Windpower (the new Landmark 43) with Rick Nankin on the helm, gybe away to get into the south easter, which had crept quietly westwards and closer to us during the start sequence. We had originally decided to sail in the westerly, but to see Windpower lift her skirts and barrel downwind in the strong breeze, we changed our minds in an instant and followed suit. It took us a little longer to get into the wind, but once we got it, we were quickly up to 14 knots with frequent forays into the 16 plus zone. As the wind was so strong, we were also able to sail quite deep. Once we got the feel of how to handle the boat in the swell and chop, we started getting more speed out of the boat and registered a new maximum speed record of 19,3 knots. That 20 knot target is now very much in our sights. Let's just say the downwind leg was seriously exciting and the very essence as to why we sail a sports boat. 

It took about 6 minutes and we had drawn level with the Landmark 43 – up till then they were the runaway leaders – but they were sailing considerably deeper than us, albeit slower. We planed the boat in a perpetual shower of spray until we started running out of water depth. The wind was a solid 30 to 35 knots and we were right on the limit of control. We were hoping for a lull to do our gybe, but the Cape Doctor said otherwise. With 5 meters of water under the keel, we called the gybe and I took the boat DDW nice and slowly as the crew got the kite and main over. I held it DDW for a few seconds for everyone to get back into position and we heated the angle up again with the boat accelerating quickly up to 15 knots. The port gybe was a lot rougher as the swell was hitting us from the port quarter, causing the boat to leap and surge between waves. I glanced over my shoulder and noticed we were about half a mile ahead of Windpower. The rest of the fleet were tiny blips of colour far behind us. We had done the run from the start to a line abeam of the lighthouse on the island in just 27 minutes, covering 5.3 nm. You do the maths! That is a blistering pace by 27 foot monohull standards. 

There was a sudden drop in pressure as we neared a large anchored ship and we were forced to strike the kite in order to clear its anchor chain. Windpower had closed the gap on us down to 300 meters during that little exercise, but the wind had dropped right down from 35 to 5 knots in a very short space of time. And then both boats parked within 30 meters of each other in the company of a very large whale. Those boats that had been so far behind, came rushing into the parking lot one by one. Two miles away on the eastern shore of the island, the leading boats that had taken the westerly route, were making steady progress. We watched in dismay, as the massive lead we had built up, was progressively eroded. That group was headed up by the L52 ‘ Thunderchild’ and that all conquering Farr 38 ‘A-L’ 

We sniffed a hint of the westerly and the Pacer started moving. We managed to sail out of the hole, to reach the northern corner of the island to leeward of A-L to find ourselves in 5th place (actual) and probably 1st or 2nd on handicap, but we know only too well that the upwind legs are invariably our undoing. The westerly freshened up to about 15 knots giving a decent angle to clear the kelp and reefs. Some of the waves were large, ponderous and steep - suddenly rearing up to curl dangerously into white water. A shoreline littered with shipwrecks bears mute testimony to the dangers these waves hold. The L42 “8 Seconds” caught one of those big ones head on and the boat went airborne, to the point where we could see their keel. The entire crew went airborne and came crashing back down on the deck as the boat settled down onto the back of the wave. The skipper was given the NASA award at prize giving for the highest flying boat! 

We stood out to sea on port tack, until we felt we would safely clear the reefs along the western shore of the island. The waves were rolling in from our starboard beam, causing huge changes in apparent wind. That required some serious concentration on helming effectively. We were also losing leeway in the big waves and were forced to put another hitch out to sea to clear the furthest reefs. 

Finally we were clear of the island and were able to crack off a touch and get our boat speed onto a steady 6.7 knots. Only one boat was able to overtake us on that leg – the Fast 42 ‘Tenacity’. Things were looking good for us, despite our 20 minute park up earlier near Murray Bay. I was confident of a top 10 placing, but the big question was: “Will the westerly hold all the way to the finish line?” 

It did not. ‘8 Seconds’ peeled off on a reach with a spinnaker up, trying to cross over the convergence zone into the south easter, but we felt it was too early. We stuck to our guns and went for height on the west side of the rhumb line, but the pressure was once again fading and before long we were parked up and again, the whole fleet behind us joined us in the park up. The south easter was a few hundred (painful) meters away. There was nothing we could do, except wait. Then we picked up a nice little rotor and got our spinnaker up and quickly covered most of the distance towards the new wind. We could see it was strong. It took another 5 or 6 minutes of violent changes of direction and suddenly we were sailing again – but we were being hammered. With a full main and No.1 Genoa, we were seriously overpowered. With less than a mile to go, we just depowered the rig as much as we could and pressed on to the finish with the mainsail taking a horrible flogging in the process. We crossed the line around 16h30 – exactly 3hours 42 mins and 10 seconds after starting. The good news was, despite all the variable weather, we had come through it all intact. We ended 8th overall on corrected time, which was an acceptable result, considering the two park ups we had endured. Now all we have to do is convince the race committee to put the finish line at Murray Bay! 

The Farr 38 ‘A-L’ took 1st place, followed by another Farr 38 ‘Freedom’ with the J120 ‘Naledi’ in 3rd place. 

If we have strong south easterly breeze for the Mykonos Offshore next month, the Pacer 27’s will be in the harbour early in the day! News on the grapevine has it that the Flying Tiger 10 sports boat has entered Mykonos this year, as well as a Dragonfly trimaran. There will be a big hunt on for line honours. 

Entries so far stand at 84 and there is still a month to go. I reckon we are going to see more than a hundred entries. So far, 7 Pacer 27’s have indicated their intention in participating. We are hoping to make 9 in total. There is a second factory boat available if anyone wants to put a team together over the next four weeks. The format for racing for the Pacer Nationals is one day of cans racing in Table Bay on Thursday 18th February, followed by the 65nm downwind sprint to Saldanha Bay on Friday the 19th; a 25nm Pursuit race in and around Saldanha Bay on Saturday 20th and a final day of cans racing in front of Club Mykonos on Sunday 21st February.


1st A-L Robbie van Rooyen Farr38 
2nd Freedom CP V d Merwe Farr 38 
3rd Naledi F Scheder- Biessen J 120 
4th Windpower Gutschi/Nankin Landmark 43 
5th AA Thunderchild R & G Goldswain Lav 52 
6th Hors d'Oeuvre Peter Bam L26 
7th Spilhaus III Ted Kuttel Swede 55 
8th Regent Express Trygve Roberts Pacer 27 S 
9th Eight Seconds Harry Brehm Leisure 42 
10th Vortex Mike Atkins L34 
11th Voodoo Wayne Hennings Lavanos 52 
12th PUMA Unleashed Hyton Hale Pacer 42 
13th NB Gumption Nicholas Mace Fast 40 
14th Tenacity Clarence Hendricks Fast 42 
15th Wallbanger Kevin Brady Simonis 35 
16th Me2Me Derek Shuttleworth Farr 38 
17th Addis in Cape Alexandre Monat Archambault 35 
18th Apricot Bat Tromp Muira 
19th GetBack Peter Ahern Lavezzi 40 
20th Spectrum Andy James L34 
21st Maestro Roux/van Ass Fast 42 
22nd Celine IV Volker Vierhuis Comfortina 39 
23rd Morgenster Freddie Lambrechts L34 
24th Reaction Thinus Groenewald RCOD 
25th Ava K Sotwood Miura f/prop 
26th Zikomo Craig Elstron 
27th Let's Go Duncan Johnson Bucanneer 
28th Flyer Joe vd Westhuizen Beneautau FC 10 
29th Tally Ho John Waller L34 
30th Mafuta Mathys Lourens Bavaria 36 
31st FTI Flyer Keith Mattison Charger 33 
32nd Majimoto 11 Mare/Birch Farr 40 
33rd Cabaray Ray Matthews Stadt 34 steel hull 
34th Impact Jackie Brand Impact 
35th Mighty Lemon Drop Jannie de Goede Lav mini ton 
36th Aurora Mel Hawtrey Atlantis 49 
37th Miss Ilse Hennie Mc Laglan Simonis 35 
38th Ragtime Colin Greyvensteyn Lav 30 
39th Saoirse Tony Blackwell Atlantis 36