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Harken Robben Island Pursuit Race.

Last updated on 17 Oct 2009

Race in a nutshell:  

Line: 2nd 
Position PHRF: 2nd 
Total Entries: 47 
Distance: 18 nm. 
Max Speed: 10.3 knots 
Ave speed: 7.4 knots 
Weather Forecast: Cloudy. Wind Southerly 10 to 17 knots. Temp 19C 
Weather Actual: Cloudy. Wind SE 10 knots becoming SW 12 knots, becoming calm, becoming SE 8 knots 
Baro: 1018 hPa. 
Course: #10 (S) – Robben Island (P or S) - #10 (P) 
Seas: Long period swell 3m. Choppy and lumpy on the west side of the island. 
Sails: Full Main (North), No. 1 Fusion Genoa (Quantum), A1 Asymmetric Spinnaker. (Quantum) A3 Asymmetric Spinnaker (North) 
Crew: Trygve Roberts (Helm), Charles Crosby (Main), Greg Harrowsmith (Genoa), Phillip Rentschler (Pit), Craig Latigan (Mast) Simon Penso (Bow), Total: 530 kg

Ooooh.....that was so close! 

After three hours racing we crossed the finish line bow to bow one meter behind the J120 'Naledi' to take second overall in this years race. It really doesn't get any closer or any more exciting than that. With the very experienced Manuel Mendes trimming on the J120 as we went into the final flurry of tacks and cover tacks, the normally composed Manuel started shouting rules not even he could figure out, but we sort of figured out 'NO WATER' actually meant 'STARBOARD' 

The last five minutes into the finish left us all dry mouthed and on a huge adrenaline high with the sweet taste of victory so close, but it was not to be. For the second time in as many weeks, we had to be content playing the Cinderella role. 

This year's event attracted a solid fleet of forty seven yachts including a pair of Laser dinghies which sailed the course having left well before the main fleet - more as a fun feature and to prove a point, than any sort of serious race attempt, but both Laser's did successfully complete the course but were not offically scored. 

Dr Dave Smith once again did a great job of calculating the handicaps and start times with the entire fleet finishing within a forty five minute window. The first boat - a Theta 26 - started at 11h00 followed by a long procession of spinnakers as the fleet sailed the downwind leg to Robben Island . We were the thirty second boat to leave the starting area together with a Simonis 35 'Palucci' and Dr Dave Smiths Lightwave 395 'Touch n Go' at 11h56. We had our R1 Assymetric up and drawing before we crossed the line and immediately went for a fairly hot angle towards Blouberg beach at around 9 knots on the log. Not particularly fast, but no doubt faster than the rest of the fleet. Being so far behind, makes one feel like it is an impossible task to catch up, but we did, despite seemingly impossible odds. 

This year we were allowed to leave the island to port or starboard and it was interesting to see which boats chose the various options. We figured we would play things by ear and see how things panned out. With a southerly wind forecast, we were fairly certain there would be a big wind shadow over the bay from Table Mountain, so we headed towards the beach to stay in the pressure. There were about six large ships anchored in the bay, which would affect everyone's tactics to a degree. The wind was in fact south easterly where we were, so once we started getting close to the beach, we had to gybe back offshore onto port, but the boat did not feel very comfortable as we were sailing directly into the swell. The wind pressure appeared to be decreasing the further offshore we went, so we decided to gybe back inshore to stay in the pressure. Our gybes have certainly improved a lot since our last Robben Island race! 

We kept on heading north east on the starboard gybe until we had the northern tip of the island at ninety degrees. We went for the final gybe to get a perfect angle of attack. Up till then we had the beach side of the course to ourselves, but we were heading rapidly back into the traffic. We had caught up with most of the Farr 38's who had started two minutes ahead of us. Then the unexpected happened. The wind started veering around to the south west which had us struggling to hold our big spinnaker. We decided to change down to a smaller fractional assymetric, but even that was not flat enough to hold an angle of sixty degrees, so we just as quickly aborted it and pulled the No1 Genoa back up. Amazingly we were still holding a steady 8,5 knots boat speed by barber hauling the clew outboard. 

Getting through the kelp and backwash at the back of the island is always tricky. We had the Farr 38 'Benba' on our leeward hip and their sistership 'A-L' directly ahead. The heavy traffic was looming as we started sailing into the main body of the fleet with some big and heavy cruisers amongst the mix. We stood just far enough out to sea, before tacking onto starboard for the long beat back to the finish line. The biggest problem at the back of the island is staying off the surf line and keeping clear of kelp - and there was plenty of it. Whole floating islands of kelp beckoned the unwary. Somehow we managed to get through that mess with clean foils and with fairly good boat speed as well. Charles was working hard on the mainsail trim trying to keep the Pacer flat and powered up as the big swells lifted us 3 to 4 meters at a time. In the length of the island we must have overtaken 25 boats. 

Once past Robben Island, we were able to foot off a few degrees and get the boat speed back up to 7,5 knots steady. We had worked our way into the top six positions. Up ahead we had two Farr 38's, an RCOD and a steel Stadt 34 (the latter two whom we knew we could catch) and two other small boats. We could still do it, but we would need to be sharp and of course, there was still the question of whether there would be a calm zone between the fleet and the finish line. Another question was whether the boats that had gone the other way round the island, might have an advantage over us. 

One by one we passed boats until we only had the two Farr 38's to catch, but 'A-L' had a substantial lead on us with a boat full of young hot shots on board. It would be a tough ask to overtake them. In yacht racing anything can happen and we know to never give up. This race would prove the wisdom of the addage yet again. 

We had been trying to overtake the Farr 38 'Freedom' for almost an hour, so we decided to do something a bit more radical and hotted up our angle which drew us level with them but to windward. We then hoisted the A3 Assymetric again and sailed a much lower angle than the two Farr's. That little section didn't last long and suddenly we were out of the pressure and scramling to strike the spinnaker. 'A-L' and 'Freedom' had both also parked. Behind us the fleet all came sailing into the calm zone one by one. The bigger boats carried more way and continued past us until they too came to a total stop. Typically, Table Bay had dished out a whole restart for many of the fleet who had worked so hard to get to the front. It was waiting time. Agonising!!! 

Far to the left, the boats that had left the island to starboard were coming up in a nice band of south easter, but the leading bunch were also slowing down considerably. We were right in the middle of the parking lot. A light breeze tickled the Windex and our trimmers set to work, getting Regent Express some power to work with. We skirted a 50 footer which had parked to windward of us and quickly rehoisted our big R1 spinnaker and sneaked out of the parking lot all on our own, rapidly leaving the fleet behind. The transition from the south westerly into the south easterly was quite easy and we were ready for it when it came with a lightning quick genoa hoist and kite strike. Suddenly it looked like we could take first place. The finish line was more than a mile distant and there was no question that any of the boats behind us would be able to catch us if the breeze held, but one of the big boats that had done a starboard island rounding seemed to be coming up nicely on the port tack in the same breeze we were in. We were definitely ahead of them, but they would probably be doing one knot better boatspeed than us. It was the J120 'Naledi' skippered by Robin van Rooyen. 

We watched the gap narrowing and crossed about ten boat lengths ahead of them. There was no other boat in contention. It was going to be match race between the Pacer 27 and the J120. We can tack and react quicker, but they have beter upwind boat speed. We knew it was going to be desperately close, so we needed to employ every tactic we could think of. 

The first thing was to give them dirty air, so we tacked onto port upwind and ahead of them. That worked nicely, but the wily old foxes on 'Naledi' knew they had to break free, so they soaked fast and low and tacked over onto port. We knew we didn't have the boat speed to hold them so we carried on a bit further on port before rolling over onto starboard tack, but we were a bit short of the layline to the pin end of the finish line. Naledi tacked away again and this time we let them go, heading for the pin end with the intent of tacking right under the mark. Naledi was on the starboard layline coming us fast, but we were still ahead, but only just. 

There was a lot of shouting coming from Naledi - mainly from Manuel in his thick Portuguese accent - as we scraped past Naledi on port with about 3 meters to spare. We tacked quickly back onto starboard and sprinted the last few boat lengths to the finish line. It was just not enough. They beat us by a quarter of a boat length. So very, very close. The Pacer 42 'Puma' took third place a few minutes behind us. 

Considering that we did not have the advantage of a good down angle for our spinnaker work, we were pleased as punch with the result and celebrated on the terrace with some good old South African 'cerveja'

1 SA2773 Naledi J120 1,155 14 35 39 
2 17 Regent Express Pacer 27S 1,080 14 35 44 
3 SA 3800 Puma Unleashed Pacer 42R 1,265 14 37 50 
4 SA 630 A-L Farr 38 1,090 14 38 2 
5 SA4444 Gumption ILC 40 1,270 14 39 25 
6 SA3455 Mafuta Bavaria 36 0,990 14 39 42 
7 SA 2700 Lobelia IMX 40 1,145 14 39 50 
8 SA4242 Tenacity Fast 42 1,175 14 40 21 
9 US43434 Spilhaus III Swede 55 1,110 14 41 26 
10 SA2388 8 Seconds Leisure 42 1,155 14 41 50 
11 SA1178 Touch & Go Lightwave 395 1,080 14 42 46 
12 FRA 34635 Addis in Cape A 35 Archambault 1,105 14 42 45 
13 SA250 Freedom Farr 38 1,070 14 43 6 
14 SA1105 Benba Farr 38 1,070 14 43 39 
15 SA898 ME2ME Farr 38 1,070 14 44 20 
16 SA344 Maestro Fast 42 1,150 14 44 20 
17 SA 198 Hill Billy J 27 0,995 14 44 55 
18 SA 675 Majimoto II Farr 40 1,130 14 45 44 
19 SA 3740 Celine IV Comfortina 39 1,050 14 46 8 
20 Sa667 Sea Shuttle Charger 33 0,985 14 46 50 
21 011 Tally Ho L 34 1,015 14 47 30 
22 SA723 Flyer First Class 10 1,020 14 47 54 
23 SA 2018 Cabaray Stadt 34 0,940 14 48 34 
24 SA 190 Pure Magic J 27 0,995 14 48 47 
25 SA 978 Aurora Atlantis 49 1,080 14 48 0 
26 SA 42 Sea Minor L 34 1,015 14 52 28 
27 13 Ariel RCOD 0,925 14 52 47 
28 SA 702 FTI Flyer Charger 33 0,985 14 54 27 
29 SA2360 Saoirse Atlantis 36 0,930 14 54 30 
30 SA569 Gremlin Spirit 28 0,910 14 56 22 
31 SA130 Apricot Miura 0,935 14 58 52 
32 1 Orca Ocean 31 0,970 14 59 10 
33 SA2118 Thalassa Fortuna 37 0,935 15 0 5 
34 SA 1967 Storm Ocean 31 0,950 15 0 41 
35 SA 941 Morgenster L34 1,015 15 0 48 
36 SA 597 Mighty Lemon Drop L mini ton 0,880 15 1 35 
37 SA432 Bandit Miura 0,935 15 2 10 
38 SA1692 Doughty Simonis 64 1,420 15 3 14 
39 Ava Miura 0,935 15 3 47 
40 SA1245 Pallucci Simonis 35 1,080 15 8 24 
41 SA742 Goblet L 36 0,950 15 13 0