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Slaley Wines Robben Island Pursuit Race.

Last updated on 25 Aug 2009

Race in a Nutshell:

Recovering the A2 after a hectic broach whilst watching the opposition sail away!
Position PHRF: RTD 
Total Entries : 50+ 
Distance: 20.0 nm. 
Weather Forecast: Clear, sunny. Wind South East 15 knots. Temp 19C 
Weather Actual: Wind SE 25 knots but very localised to 2 miles offshore. Beyond that a 2 knot westerly and large areas of calm. 
Baro: 1002 hPa. 
Course: Start #10 (S) - Robben Island (p) - #10 (P) 
Seas: Flat 
Sails: Full Main, No. 1 Genoa, A2 Heavy Assymetric Spinnaker and A3 Assymetric. 
Crew: Trygve Roberts (Helm), Craig Latigan (Main), Greg Harrowsmith (Genoa), Phillip Rentschler (Pit), Simon Penso (Bow), Total: 420 kg


Well, I have to admit that there is a first time for everything. During this race we had a fairly serious collision with a competitor. It is a very interesting scenario and I am busy applying my mind to the rules and how they interact in this complex case. But more about that later..... 

At the start we had the classic case of a brisk south easter with white caps sitting on the bay just a hundred meters to the east of the start line. To the west of the start line a hint of a westerly, but not enough to get the heavier cruising boats moving. Some of them took half an hour to get over the line. I felt guilty as the Pacer sailed effortlessly up and down the start line in almost no breeze. I guess there has to be some advantage for carrying a rating of 1.080 !! 

Pacer 3 and Felix (the other two Pacer 27's) were late for the start. Our start was bang on time. As soon as we crossed the line we hoisted the A2 kite, but it was all very pedestrian as we ghosted along at about 2.5 knots. We needed to be aggressive and gybe in towards the south easter, even if it meant parking in the calm convergence zone for a while. It took about 10 minutes but felt like a lifetime as we gently worked our way east with the headsail, having taken the asso down. 

Once we were in the real breeze, we continued going for height on a fetch until we were satisfied we were in the best pressure. We then turned onto a broad reach and hoisted the A2. What followed was one of the most enjoyable sails of my life. The boat steadied out and quickly accellerated to 14 knots and then remained there. Every now and then she would dip her bows into a wave sending sheets of white water over the decks and out the back, Volvo style, but nothing to be worried about - just fabulous, dry-mouthed adrenaline reaching. This is what sports boat sailing is all about. We hit our peak speed along this stretch of 16.6 knots 

The boats that had started before us appeared to be driving in the slow lane as we sustained those high speeds almost to the beach. It was gybe time, or so I thought. Phill said it was too early, but I didnt want to struggle with too tight a reach on the next leg. I made the call - and a very bad one it was too. We were ahead of Felix and marginally faster than them, as we only had 400 kgs of crew on board. 

The gybe was nasty. Everything was fine until the main crashed over - and the whole boat went with it. We had to dump most of the spinnaker halyard to recover, but it all took too long. In short order the sail started filling with water and we were doing what we refer to as "prawn trawling". Meanwhile Felix the Cat came steaming past us. 

One thing we are good at is post broach analysis. We certainly have qualified to do those! The following reasons came up, probably in this order of importance: 

1. Grossly underweight. Normal mass is 530 kg. Weight today 400 kgs. It is so important to have the weight to keep the boat flat directly after the gybe. 

2. A badly hungover and sleep deprived spinnaker trimmer who was not fully compos mentus 

3. A bowman doing his first gybes in wind over 12 knots and perhaps a bit tentative in his actions 

4. Not hauling the mainsheet in fast enough through the gybe manouver 

5. Helmsman rushed the crew into the gybe and commenced the turn before everyone was ready. 

Whatever! There were enough good reasons why we tipped the boat over....and there was plenty more to come.

It took 3 to 4 minutes to get the wet sail back on deck without tearing it. Only then could we bear off and reset it. It was a mess and looked like three breasted bra as it went back up the mast. It took another few minutes sailing at 9 knots before we got all the tangles out. The speed was back on but on average we were about two knots slower than on the starboard gybe. This was probably due to us having to sail across the waves. 
Pacer 3 overtaking us. Note how slack the forestay is. A lot more backstay is necessary to keep the mast from going forward too much.

My gybe call was hopelessly too early as we were aiming at the southern tip of the island instead of the northern tip! That meant another gybe. It also felt like we were sailing out of the pressure band. We first had to weave our way in between a few anchored freighters. I heard Simon, our bowman, groan at the prospect of another gybe and heard him say something about his arms feeling like they had lead in them.

I called the gybe in a lull and that one went off much better. Not perfect, but at least we got through it without falling over. The moment we were back on the starboard gybe, the speed came back on and we logged our maximum for the day of 16.6 knots. The boat is exceptionally well mannered and stable once everything is under control but it definitely doesn't want any crew members forward of the front of the cockpit. We pulled Simon back to sit behind me. He was panting, out of breath and was experiencing extreme arm muscle fatigue. He told me that if I called for another gybe soon, he would not be able to manage it. Typically, he got no sympathy from any of the crew other than a few ribald remarks about reserving his energy for racing and not other matters. 

In the far distance we picked up "Felix's" unmistakable red spinnaker. They had gone far down to Blouberg beach before they gybed onto port, and were ripping back across the bay towards us. They had taken about a half mile distance out of us. We were on a collision course with a 31 ft cruising boat called "Storm" who were more or less on the same port gybe that 'Felix' was on, but doing half the speed, despite a big masthead spinnaker. We were on the starboard gybe and were having a debate as to whether we should play things safe and steer to go behind her, even though we had rights, or push to clear through ahead of 'Storm'. We decided to go conservative and let them pass. All that happened at about the same time as we crossed Felix's track. We could see Felix had also gybed a little early and would have to put in another gybe to clear the northern end of the island.

What we jokingly refer to as "Going prawning" Kite totally underwater and a real mission to get it back onboard without tearing it.  

When we gybed back onto port a minute later, we botched it again (no doubt to blame on the same reasons mentioned above, with the exception that this time I waited for full confirmation that everyone was ready, before gybing.) Yet again, we wasted 3 to 4 minutes getting the sail recovered, untangled and rehoisted. Then we set off in pursuit of 'Felix' which was at that stage about 3/4 mile ahead of us. 

Collision time approaching.....This is the important bit and here there are many lessons to be learnt. When we recovered from our second broach and got the boat back up to 13 knots, we were about 30 boat lengths to leeward (on the same port gybe) and 40 boat lengths behind "Storm", which we had ducked some minutes before. The two boats were on converging courses with us sailing about 5 to 10 degrees closer to the wind than Storm. They were doing about 7 knots, whilst we were doing 14 knots. The distance that they were ahead shrunk quickly, as did the separation. We discussed whether we should overtake them to windward or to leeward. The golden rule when sailing sports boats is that one always overtakes to windward. The problem was we were in a tight groove - sailing any higher would probably have meant another broach, so I opted for a leeward overtake manouver. I figured with 14 knots of boat speed at my disposal, we would have no problem blasting through "Storm's" wind shadow. 

As the two courses progressively converged, the sideways separation shrank to around 4 boat lengths at the point that we gained an overlap and continued to decrease as the two boats moved closer together. I called "WEATHER BOAT KEEP CLEAR" but got no response from their skipper other than to jovially offer us some cold beers. 

The gap narrowed even more and as our bow was about 5 meters in front of theirs, the gap went down to 2 meters and at the same time our spinnaker collapsed as we sailed into their wind shadow. I called louder for them to keep clear but still got no response. At that point I decided I needed to avoid a collision and turned our boat abruptly downwind which slowed us even more. "Storm" then rolled us as our speed bled right down to about 6 knots. The separation at that stage was about 6 meters. 

As Storm surged forwards and we fell back to the point where our bow was amidships of their boat, the wind filled our spinnaker and we broached, without warning, to weather. Our bowsprit collided violently with their starboard quarter causing a fair bit of damage to the sprit casing on our boat, but nothing more than a scratch to Storm. 

After recovering the spinnaker, we set the headsail and did a quick inspection of our boat to assess the damage and to ensure we had not holed her. The damage was limited to the sprit housing, but it did mean we were unable to fly a spinnaker again for the rest of the race. 

There were secondary issues as well. A collision had taken place which meant one, or both vessels, had to retire (which both did ultimately, but not for the right reasons). We also did not have a protest flag on board; nor did either boat shout "PROTEST!

We decided not to make any issue out of it and took the time to look Storm up after docking to make sure everything was OK - but it does pose an interesting question about who was wrong and who was right. Anyone with a qualified opinion is welcome to send it to me on

At that stage Pacer 3 rapidly caught up to us but the breeze would soon drop to almost nothing as we sailed around the north side of the island. The next hour or so would be a very slow and tedious process of trying to keep the boat moving. Felix was lying in a strong position to win the race as the south easter was steadily fading which would be a disadvantage to the big boats coming up from behind. 

Greg eventually fed his Jaegerbombs to the fish which was our signal to call it a day and retire. We were lying about 12th at that stage. Felix stuck it out and went on to win the event. Well done to Ant and his crew! 

Only three other boats out of a total of 53 starters completed the race. The prize giving was poorly attended due to the many early retirees and I hope the sponsor, Slaley Wines, were not too disappointed with the way things panned out. The race had been postponed from a few weeks earlier due to bad weather. 

We will have to miss racing this week as the boat will be under the repairman's hands for a fortnight.

Above: Pacer 3 with James Harvie and his crew enjoying the brisk consitions on the bay. Note the very slack forestay!!! 


1. Storm would have been disqualified for failing to keep clear of an overlapped leeward boat.(First part of the incident) 
2. Regent Express would also have been disqualified for failing to avoid a collision (Second half of the incident) 

Note that this opinion was solicited based on the facts as presented by only one party (Regent Express). No doubt a different version might come from the skipper and crew of the other boat, so this is of academic value only.