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Pacer 27 Sport National Championships & Mykonos Offshore - 22nd to 25th Feb 2012.

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Above: Newcomer Doug Alison steering Unmatched through the big Div 1 boats at the Paarden Island mark at the start of the long distance race.

For the 3rd year in a row Pacer 27 boat owners voted to run the nationals in conjunction with the Mykonos Offshore. The format has proven to be hugely popular, with every privately owned Pacer 27, bar Russel Morgan's one from PE, making the effort to attend. It provides a tough, but interesting combination of fast, furious and intense, short leg round the cans racing, followed by the two distance races. Crews feel stretched to the limit on the final day. It is, after all, a national championship event. Last year's champions Unruly, were present to defend their title, but the two Cape Town based boats in the form of Felix the cat and Regent Express, were not going to let that happen easily. These three boats were consistently on top form to provide for a hard fought, and close regatta. This is one design racing at it's finest.

Above: Rob de Vlieg at the helm of Music-Sebago rounding the weather mark first in the pursuit race in Langebaan.

Wednesday, 22nd February
Unseasonal weather descended on the Cape Peninsula for the start of the 2012 Pacer Nationals, resembling a mid winter frontal storm and a far cry from the hot and dry weather we normally have at this time of year. The event started with off with several problems across the boards. One of the Vaal based boats (Music-Sebago) owned by Guy Nottingham, saw their tow vehicle break down near Beaufort West, resulting in two full days of repairs and the crew getting to know the little Karoo town backwards. In a sporting gesture, at the skippers briefing on the night before the first race, the rest of the boat owners all agreed to postpone the start of the first race, to allow them to get their boat craned into the water and be on time for the start of the first race.

The plan had been to have eight boats on the water, but several days before the event, Derek Robinson (Skwert ll) announced he would not be able to race, but that he would make his boat available and that his brother would skipper it and supply crew. The day before the regatta, Derek called back, to say, that his brother could no longer make it. So, a perfectly good Pacer 27 lay at the pontoon, ready to race and entered, but without a skipper and crew. Despite efforts at finding a team to race the boat, it proved nigh impossible, with the event being started on a normal midweek working day.

There was more drama in that Pacer 2, owned by the factory, was also seriously short of a skipper and crew. Three German sailors had specially flown out to SA to compete in the nationals, with the intention of gaining experience in the class. They were left high and dry with insufficient crew, but they nonetheless managed to get one additional local youngster to join them and started the event sailing with only four crew – the minimum allowed under the class rules. These guys deserve a medal for enduring three back to back races in gruelling conditions with only four crew on board. Despite coming last in every race, they stuck it out and at least finished the races. That was admirable.

Racing kicked off at 11h30 on Wednesday 22nd Feb on a gloomy looking Table Bay, with dark, tea coloured seas, breaking sporadically in awkward, washing machine like conditions, backed up by a stiff North-Wester, coupled with intermittent drizzle. The upcountry guys were immediately uncomfortable with the unpleasant conditions and several cases of seasickness were reported. The bridge boat and mark layer suffered the same fate, but eventually a course was laid, even though the off-set mark was not set to achieve its intended purpose. We had a course and racing would begin. A lot of kelp around the course provided another hazard for skippers.

Race 1 kicked off with a clean start. Immediately three boats showed good speed (Unruly, Regent Express and Unmatched) – the last-named boat skippered by newcomer to Pacer sailing – Doug Alison and with him at least three other highly competent skippers. Unmatched rounded the weather mark first, followed closely by Regent Express and Unruly. Spinnaker work on Regent Express was better than the other two, and she leapt into the lead and held onto to it, to win the first race, but Richard Tanner and his team of young rock stars, were close behind to take 2nd place. Some distance behind to take 3rd place was Felix the cat (Allen Lawrence). They had picked up kelp just after the start, and despite stopping to clear, had not gotten rid of all of it. It showed their skill level, to still pull off a 3rd place, despite the handicap.

On Unmatched there was big drama, when one of their crew, Tristan Wentworth, was washed overboard on a downwind leg. They had decided just that day that everyone would wear life jackets. It took the rest of the crew a very long time to locate the youngster. They had lost sight of him in the rough seas during their spinnaker take down and took almost 40 minutes to locate him and get him back on board. Doug Alison wisely decided to abandon racing and get Tristan back to shore to warm up. That meant scoring 2 DNF results for the day for Doug and his crew.

The Vaal Dam based boat, Stinger, was unable to manage the rough conditions and also headed back to shore, leaving just five boats left to battle things out. Race 2 was started promptly. Felix the cat immediately showed dominance and rounded the weather mark first, pursued closely by Unruly and Regent Express. Music-Sebago (Rob de Vlieg) was not on speed and was generally sailing mid-fleet. The three leading boats opened up a big gap, but they too, were not without mishaps. Regent Express experienced a big spinnaker wrap during a gybe, resulting in the spinnaker going under water and them losing their 2nd place. They recovered sufficiently, to finish 3rd behind Felix the cat (1st ) and Unruly (2nd ).

Unruly, skippered by Richard Tanner, blasting downwind on the long distance race.

Race 3
The breeze had cranked up a notch making conditions really tough. Most of the boats had switched down to No.2 jibs and some had gone down to fractional kites as well. The bridge boat was rolling and pitching badly, leaving the crew feeling seasick, so they wasted no time in starting the 3rd race. The wind had backed around a bit towards the west in Race 2, which left some starboard bias on the start line. That resulted in all 5 boats wanting to be at the committee boat end of the line. In the ensuing battle for pole position, a general recall was called. The restart was better and the fleet got off to a clean start. Felix the cat, with their tails up after a win in Race 2, nailed a good start and sailed a clinical race to lead from start to finish, followed by Regent Express in 2nd place, with Unruly taking 3rd , after sacrificing second place due to a spinnaker wrap.

Back on shore, as the wet and cold crews gathered for warm showers, food and beer, the war stories came out. It had been a really tough day for everyone. Three boats stood out as being consistently near the front, reflected in the points to date:
Felix the Cat – Allen Lawrence (5 points)
Regent Express – Trygve Roberts (6 points)
Unruly - Richard Tanner (7 points)

Thursday 23 rd February: I have done many regattas in my not inconsiderable life span, but few will have left my body so full of aches, pains and bruises as that harsh first day of this event. The sun was out; the rain was gone, the sea was a little flatter, and the breeze was just about non-existent, as the Pacer 27 fleet followed the bridge boat to the middle of Table Bay for the second day of round the cans racing. With only a one point advantage between the top three boats (Felix the cat, Regent Express and Unruly), there was plenty of action waiting to be had.

A windward/leeward course was set in a very light and shifty south easterly. Racing got underway after a postponement of an hour after several boats had not received repaired sails back from the sail lofts in time and it was noted that Unruly had not come out to race. It was later established that they had managed to put a kink in their mast the previous day in the rough seas. A repair team was on their way to fit a stiffener, but Race 4 would have to be their discard. Talk about pressure!

Race 4 turned into a real lottery with holes appearing in several places over the course. I was quite surprised that it was not abandoned. Felix the cat was out in front and then lost it again after the breeze died completely where they were. Regent Express were caught port/starboard by Stinger and in the process of doing their penalty, they dropped to the tail of the fleet. One of the old foxes of sailing, Doug Alison (Unmatched), sailing in his first Pacer event, slipped through to take the gun from upcountry visiting boat Stinger leaving Felix the cat to be content with a 3rd. In short, this was a race that should never have been sailed.

A further lengthy postponement followed as the south easter died completely, leaving RO Peter Kemp no option but to head towards Granger Bay where a gentle westerly had made an appearance. Unruly's mast had been repaired and she made it to the start area in time for the 5th race.

Race 5
was started and Regent Express, Unruly and Felix the cat immediately engaged in close quarters battle. Regent Express was in good form and rounded the top mark ahead, hotly pursued by Unruly. Felix the cat had picked up some more kelp which slowed them a bit. At the second rounding of the top mark, Unmatched did a risky port tack approach and tacked in front of Regent Express. After a lot of shouting and protest flags being waved about, the incident was discussed over a beer on shore and never went to protest. The breeze went very light for the final downwind leg to the finish, forcing Regent Express to cover the fleet, which gave Unruly a gap and they went far inshore in a brave move, where they found good breeze and came charging back in their very own band of wind, leaving a frustrated Regent Express in 2nd place and newcomer from Germany, Jan Hamester, to happily clinch the 3rd spot.

That was deemed to be sufficient racing for the day as the fleet was sent back to moorings. When the results were published it left Felix the cat, Unruly and Regent Express all tied for 1st place with 8 points each after 1 discard. This would put enormous needle into the long distance race to Club Mykonos the next day.

The Club Mykonos girls ready to welcome the salty dogs to the resort

Friday 24 th February. Long distance race. 65 nm.
Mercifully the Cape Doctor was in town. Everyone in the Pacer fleet looks forward to this part of the nationals, when the Pacer 27 can do its downwind thing and make most other boats look pedestrian. However, the nightmare vision of a light North Wester is always a concern, but at least we had a south easter again this year. Typically, the start line was in the calm transition zone with a fresh south easter tantalizingly close to the East and gentle whisper of a westerly coming from astern. All the Pacers were grouped into Club Div 1 making the start quite tricky trying to manoeuvre around much bigger boats.

Regent Express pulled off a really good dip-start and rounded the Paarden island mark well ahead of the rest of the Pacers and simply took off downwind in a cloud of spray, but their moment of glory would be short lived as the wind petered out almost completely just north of Robben Island. Felix the cat and Stinger hugged the coast and finally caught up to an almost becalmed Regent Express. Those three boats then worked the shore breeze as best they could, unable to shake each other off in a very light and fitful breeze from the South West. Abeam the Koeberg power station harbour, all three took down spinnakers and started beating northwards with Felix the cat slightly ahead, followed by Stinger and Regent Express. All three were still close enough to each other to able to read sail numbers.

After 50 minutes of trying to work upwind, Felix the cat hoisted a fractional spinnaker and sailed a lower angle. They very quickly separated from the other two Pacers. Regent Express did not have a fractional spinnaker in their wardrobe, so set to the chase behind Felix the cat with a masthead spinnaker, but they were unable to hold the high heading that Felix the cat could - sufficient to get them to the gate at Dassen island. Stinger let the other two go and continued to sail as high as possible on a two sail reach to get into the westerly which had been slowly building. Regent Express were hard pressed trying to hold their big spinnaker and had to eventually drop it and go back onto a two sail fetch to gain westing. They did that twice up to the gate, but it cost them dearly. Felix the cat was the first Pacer 27 through the gate after 5 hours 02 mins 49 secs. They had called the tactics optimally, as they have done many times before. Second through the gate after 5 hrs 08 mins 27 secs was Doug Alison in Unmatched.

Rob de Vlieg, skippering Music-Sebago, took his chances early after Robben Island and headed west. They cleared the gate in 3rd place one minute behind Unmatched. Some 9 minutes later Pacer 2 cleared the gate, then after another 3 minutes Regent Express and Stinger went through virtually side by side.

Unruly had a bad time of the beach zone as well and were last through the gate, but with loads of talent on board, they got their boat going really fast and nailed an excellent second half to Mykonos. Interestingly enough, the biggest gains were made in the final leg from Dassen island to the finish. Rob de Vlieg finally got his team on song and they smoked through to Mykonos in just 2 hrs and 29 minutes to nail a 1st place overall for Race 6 of the nationals. Their time was also good enough to give them the overall win for Div 1 of the Mykonos Offshore.

German sailor, Jan Hauester, driving Pacer 1 downwind in Table Bay

Unruly made up time on their poor first half to take 2nd place in the final leg, finishing 3 minutes adrift of Music-Sebago. Stinger, Regent Express and Unmatched followed in close proximity to one another, leaving Pacer 2 and Felix the cat to fill the last two places. So how did Felix the cat get a solid first place in the first half and a last place in the second half? The answer is KELP. However, kelp, or no kelp, it left them with a respectable overall position for the distance race and a good enough result to secure the national title if they could have a top 3 finishing position in the pursuit race.

When the results were posted the Pacer 27's occupied the first 7 places in the Division 1 fleet, being almost a half an hour ahead of the next Div 1 boat on corrected time. That was one hell of an emphatic statement. There are bound to be a few bleats about the rating, but of course on a downwind course, these boats are untouchable. Throw in an upwind leg and it's a different story altogether. Having said that, the Pacer 27 results were still good all round, even after the pursuit race which included plenty of upwind work with the results for the Mykonos Offshore Div 1 results showing the first 6 places belonging to the Pacer 27 fleet.

Above: The GPS track of Regent Express belies the thought, planning and anguish of leading the race - then falling into a calm zone and ending up second last at the gate. The magenta lines are legs where we flew a spinnaker - squares indicates gybes.

Friday night was party time for those who had the energy to do so, whilst the rest of us mortals tried to rest weary bodies, despite high levels of noise coming from other residents – but that's nothing new.

What was really cool this year, was seeing the SAAF Silver Falcons aerobatic team performing as the Pacer fleet was arriving at Mykonos. I stumbled across this video footage which gives one a very different perspective of what Langebaan looks like upside down. All these little touches are what makes the Mykonos Offshore a must-do regatta. They don't happen by accident. It is all carefully planned and orchestrated.

Saturday, 25th Feb Medium Distance (Pursuit) Race
The forecast for the final medium distance pursuit race was a typical Langebaan summers day – a building southerly. The Pacers all started at 12h21. Racing up the first beat was incredibly tight, with Sebago rounding one boat length ahead of Regent Express. Sebago then hoisted their A2 spinnaker only to wrap it so badly, that it tore, leaving them with the messy job of switching kites. Meanwhile, Regent Express took the lead, blasting down to the ore jetty with Felix the cat and Unmatched to weather.

Above: Regent Express in the lead on the first downwind leg in the final race.

Unruly recovered from a poor start and gradually made headway, but their real gains were made on the downwind legs, where they slotted into second place at the bottom of the ore jetty behind Regent Express after some excellent downwind tactics. A tight tussle started between Felix the cat and Unruly which would last for the rest of the race. Regent Express held onto their lead and sailed well, rounding the channel mark 1st, but hotly pursued by the rest of the fleet.

Above: The GPS track of Regent Express for the pursuit race. Magenta lines show when a spinnaker was flown. Magenta blocks indicate gybes and the blue blocks show tacks.

Stinger and Pacer 2 had retired due to technical issues (both suffered tack-line failures), leaving just the 5 Pacers to compete. At the North Bay mark it was still Regent Express in the lead, but they had banked on the breeze freshening, having chosen a No.2 headsail. On the long beat up to Jutten Island, the breeze in fact, dropped right down to about 8 knots, leaving Regent Express underpowered and having to face the option of a headsail change. Felix the cat and Unruly seized the opportunity and got ahead. Unmatched had also closed the gap on Regent Express, but as these two boats rounded the northern side of Jutten Island, Regent Express pulled off some neat spinnaker work, to forge ahead again.

Above: There are some nasty outcrops and reefs along the course - this one eats boats!

Unruly was on song with excellent downwind speed and tactics, breathing down the throat of Felix of the cat, but the highly experienced Hobie sailors on Felix were determined to hold the challenge off, which they did, giving Felix the cat a 1st for the race and with it, the national title with just 11 points. Unruly skippered by Richard Tanner and crewed by a bunch of young talented dinghy sailors just managed to sneak the 2nd place from Regent Express by a single point.

This was the third highly successful Pacer 27 Nationals/Mykonos Offshore which was hugely enjoyed by all the Pacer crews. There were some niggles about issues at Club Mykonos relating to price increases and high noise levels. These will be escalated up the chain of command in due course.
Above: Pacer crews drying and sorting gear after the distance race at Club Mykonos
Well done to Allen lawrence and Ant Wentworth on Felix the cat for a well sailed and consistent performance to win the gold medals and title of 2012 Pacer 27 National Champions!

Results (Pacer Nationals): [Note: the Mykonos Offshore only counted for 2 points/2 races for the nationals to make a total of 7 races sailed with one discard allowed]
1st Felix the cat – 007 – Allen Lawrence – 3rd, 1st , 1st , 3rd, (5th) , 2nd , 1st = 11 points
2nd Unruly – 011 – Richard Tanner – 2nd , 2nd , 3rd , ( 8th), 1st , 4th , 2nd = 14 points
3rd Regent Express – Trygve Roberts – 1st , 3rd , 2nd , 4th , 2nd , (6th) , 3rd = 15 points
4th Sebago-Music – Rob de Vlieg – 4th , 4th , 4th , (5th) , 4th , 1st , 5th = 22 points
5th Unmatched – Doug Alison - 5th , 8th , 8th , 1st , (6th) , 3rd , 4th = 27 points
6th Pacer One – Jan Hamester - 7th, 5th, 5th, (8th), 3rd, 7th, 8th = 35 points
7th Stinger – John Wilson - 6th, (8th), 8th, 2nd, 7th, 5th, 8th, = 36 points

Results (Mykonos Offshore) [Note the distance race counted for 3 races and the pursuit race for 1 for a total of 4 races with no discard]
1st Felix The Cat - Pacer 27 Sport - 7 - Allan Lawrence - 1.08

2nd Sabago-Music - Pacer 27 Sport - 10 - Rob de Vlieg - 1.08 -
3rd Unruly - Pacer 27 Sport - 11 - Richard Tanner - 1.08
4th Unmatched - Pacer 27 Sport - 1 - Doug Alison - 1.08
5th Regent Express - Pacer 27 Sport - 17 - Trygve Roberts - 1.08
6th Stinger - Pacer 27 Sport - 5 - John Wilson - 1.08

7th Maestro - Fast 42 - SA3444 - Paul van Ass - 1.16
8th Pacer One - Pacer 27 Sport - 2 - Jan Hamester - 1.08
9th After You - Lavranos 41 - SA1234 - JJ Provoyeur - 1.21
10th Rockstar - Farr 38 - SA858 - Brian Gardener - 1.095
11th Spilhaus II - Swede 55 - USA43434 - Ted Kuttel - 1.125
12th Touch n Go - Lightwave 395 - SA1178 - Dave Smith - 1.08
13th Wallbanger - Simonis 35 - SA1278 - Kevin Brady - 1.095
14th Naledi - J120 - SA2773 - Felix Scheder-Bieschin - 1.15
15th Tenacity - Fast 42 - SA4242 - Errol Stern - 1.17
16th Me2Me - Farr 38 - SA898 - Dereck Shuttleworth - 1.08
17th Faraway - Farr 40 - SA1665 - Chris Sutton - 1.13
18th Thunderchild - L 52 - SA1027 - Rhett Goldswain- 1.295
19th Majimoto II - Farr 40 - SA765 - L Birdh/P Mare - 1.14
20th Aurora - Atlantic 49 - SA978 - Mel Hawtrey - 1.085
21st Bamba Zonke - Beneteau Cyclades 434 - SA82226 - Daniel Price - 1.09
22nd Picasso - Sovereign 54 - SA1326 - Ray Alexander - 1.23
23rd Witchdoctor - Baltic 42 - SA1003 - Carel Jacobs - 1.08
24th Moonshadow - Moondance 40 - SA3435 - Ricky Robinson - 1.15