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HARKEN Robben Island Pursuit Race

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Race in a nutshell: 16th October, 2010
Position PHRF Class 1: 10th

Total Entries: 42 

Distance: 18.8nm. 

Max Speed: 10.1 knots 

Ave speed: 6.8 knots 

Time: 2 hrs 30 mins (approx.)

Weather Forecast: Clear. Wind South East 14 knots becoming 18 knots. Temp 24C 

Weather Actual: Wind WSW 8 knots becoming 12 knots 

Course: 10 (S) – Robben Island (P) - #10 (P) 

Seas: Flat

Sails: Full Main (Quantum), No. 1 Genoa (Quantum), A Zero Asymmetric Spinnaker. (Quantum) 

Crew: Trygve Roberts (Helm), Charles Crosby (Genoa/Spinnaker), Phillip Rentschler (Main), Simon Penso (Pit), James Harvie (Mast) Connor Leech (Bow), Total: 500 kg

In case you were wondering where we were last week, Regent Express was on the hard getting some new anti-fouling, a keel wedge modification and an electric bilge pump fitted. And if that's not reason enough, we had an almighty South Easterly blowing on Wednesday that could rattle the chains off the Flying Dutchman. I happened to be duty officer and knew very early in the day what the call would be. I know if I struggle keeping my car in the lane on the highway, that the wind will be over 30 knots. The entire bay and harbour was white. Racing cancelled!

Having a raiseable keel has pro's and cons. We all know the conveniences and benefits but keeping it absolutely straight and true inside its centerboard case is very important. Ours had started to develop a rattle. On closer inspection the through bolts that hold the wedge guides in place had abraded the holes in the foil to the point where they had become oval. The 12mm aluminum wedges had also developed some corrosion, so we opted to have a new set made out of stainless steel, which are very much heavier, but correspondingly stronger. To solve the problem of the oval holes in the foil, we decided to bush them with a 14mm OD s/steel set of bushes. To cut a very long story short, let me just say it is a lot easier writing about it, than actually doing the job. After a second visit to the machine shop, we finally had the design right and were able to successfully fit the wedges.

In order to work on the keel we had raised it up inside the boat (with its own winch system) by about a foot. Two days prior, the anti fouling had been sprayed on. Some of the paint had not cured completely and the lifting process had caused the paint to build up along the leading edge of the foil. This had since dried into a hard wedge inside the centerboard case (unknown to me). It was time to lower the keel for re-launching. A safety webbing strap had been attached under the keel. In order to remove that strap, we had to first winch the keel up another few inches to take the load (475 kgs) off the strap. It seemed very tight. Then one of the aluminium Ronstan double blocks in the winch system exploded. Luckily the safety strap was still attached. After replacing the (expensive) block, we finally got the strap off and the winch took up the load as we were able to gently lower the keel down to its full extension. The keel required some flatting and a touch up before launching, but finally the hull kissed the water and we were back on our mooring in a few minutes, ready to enter the Robben Island Race the next day.

After multiple days of raging south easterlies, Saturday 16 th October dawned flat calm. The sponsors of this race, HARKEN, have had to cancel this race twice this season due to inclement weather. This would be a case of third time lucky. The pursuit format of racing is very popular amongst the smaller boats, as it gives them a chance to be in the front, sailing in clear air for a good portion of the race. The previous day we had been scheduled to start at 11h16 with the slowest boats going off at 10h00. That had been based on a forecast of a fresh south easterly wind. The organizers hastily amended the start times based on a wind speed of 6 knots and our time was moved back to 11h35. This would subsequently create the effect of penalising the fast boats, but none of them minded and graciously acceded that the small boats would lead the way. We were scheduled to start with the Atlantic 49 "Aurora ” and the Melges 24 sports boat – the latter which never made it to the start line. An odd trio if ever there was!

We had a perfect start in the middle of the line with the 50ft "Aurora" right down at the pin. We held the 50 footer upwind for the first two miles (but only because the sea was flat) and then we could see we were being freed as the wind was backing around towards the south west. After our spinnaker hoist, we managed to get a bit further ahead of them. Many of the smaller boats were already sailing around the far side of the island as the wind direction allowed for no tacking and a comfortable fetch in steady breeze all the way there and back. It would turn out to be our fastest Robben island Race to date zipping around the course in two and a half hours despite the lightish breeze and non-planing conditions.

After 2 miles, we put our A0 spinnaker up and our speed went up to 8.5 knots whilst we were able to still sail at about 60 degrees apparent. We dropped the Farr 38 “A-L” behind us and quickly started reeling many of the bigger boats in. By the time we passed the harbour entrance at Murray Bay, we had overtaken about 5 boats and none of the boats that had started behind us had been able to catch us. Some judicious maneuvering around the kelp beds was required and when we shaved the reefs on the island's north shore we took another two boats. We were back on the Genoa for the short beat out to sea, before tacking back onto starboard to clear the reefs. We ended up standng out a bit too far, as A-L had tacked earlier and cut off a good chunk of the lead we had held over them.

Once past the most westerly offshore breakers, we put the Code Zero back up, but the angle was a bit too tight and we were having problems holding our heading. We ended sailing to port of the Dyang Family Reef and once clear, switched back to the Genoa. We had good separation from the main body of boats to windward and also a better angle for our approach to the finish line. We remained in that low groove and progressively got ahead of most of the boats. All of them had sailed a higher routing to protect their weather, whereas we had sailed a much straighter rhumb line course.

About a mile from the finish, the breeze started freeing again and we went back onto our Code Zero kite, which allowed us to sail directly to the No.10 mark on the starboard gybe doing 8 knots. It was looking great for a strong finish as we were in the front of the leading group of boats. Then Table Bay did it‘s usual trick and switched the wind off completely with only 200 meters to go. Many boats bunched up into the hole with drooping sails. A fresh south easterly was coming in from the front, so it was a case of kite down, headsail up and hope we would get the new breeze first, but it was not to be. We finished in 10th place, but had the race been another mile longer, we might well have clinched it.

All in all, a fantastic day out sailing on the bay in clean, steady wind with flat seas. It's not often we have that privilege. Alan Taylor's J27 “Pure Magic' won the race in fine style. Most of the boats in the top 10 were all smaller boats, which makes a nice change. Mark Sadler in the Welbourne 46 “Hifidelity” was the last boat home. That also makes a change.


1st J27 Pure Magic - Alan Taylor
2nd Stadt 34 Cabaray
3rd Spirit 30 Gremlin
4th Bavaria 36 Mafuta
5th L34 Lapwing
6th Beneteau 34.7 Necessity
7th Farr 38 Freedom
8th L34 Nurthr Witch
9th Farr 38 A-L
10th Pacer 27 Sport Regent Express
11th L34 Morgenster
12th Atlantic 49 Aurora
13th Comfortina 39 Celine lV
14th Miura Chen
15th Farr 38 Me2Me
16th Ocean 31 Paragon
17th J120 Naledi
18th Miura bandit
19th Miura Julie lll
20th Nosebe 38 Sea Oyster (Multihull)
21st Miura Iechyd Da
22nd Leopard 40 Myrtle of Bonnievale (Multihull)
23rd Farr 40 Majimoto ll
24th L42 Benba
25th Ocean 31 Orca
26th Pacer 376 Southern Storm
27th Fast 42 Maestro
28th Fast 42 Tenacity
29th Miura Ava
30th Ocean 31 Storm
31st Simonis 35 Miss isle
32nd Pacer 42 Puma Unleashed
33rd Diana Class Diana-K
34th L52 Auto Atlantic Thunderchild
35th Miura Chiquita
36th Welbourne 46 Hifidelity
37th Melges 24 melges Racing (DNC)
38th Van der Stadt 34 Sebeza (DNC)
39th L34 Tally Ho (DNC)
40th L34 Windhover (DNF)
41st Sea Trader Intrepid (RTD)