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Mykonos Offshore - 22nd / 23rd Feb, 2013

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The Start area - Table Bay uncharacteristically sans wind.
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

Number 13 - an omen.
Three years in a row have produced brisk tail winds for the Mykonos Offshore. It seems like a lifetime ago, when we sat off Yzerfontein in the J27 at dusk with zero hope of making the midnight cut-off time at Club Mykonos, followed by that mind numbing five hour motor back to the finish in the pitch dark and a cold arrival at Mykonos in the small hours of the morning, salty, sunburned, tired and hungry. The 2013 event may have made a brief visit to the numerology superstition locker, but despite all the major weather websites forecasting exactly the same weather of 10 to 15 knots South Westerlies, what came up was everyone's worst nightmare - a 5 knot northerly right on the nose, coupled with a messed up ocean from big breeze the day before. There could be few worse scenarios for a small sportsboat. (That's us, in case you haven't figured it out!).

Dolphin sightings are traditionally associated with happy passages - Uhmmmm?
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

Guru ? What guru?

As we watched the forecasts changing daily from ten days before the event, we started giving the race a "Valium rating" - This one scored a full ten. We normally complete the race between six and seven hours. This one took us eighteen hours, which included 25 nautical miles of motoring directly on the rhumb line doing 6,5 knots SOG on average. We threw in the proverbial towel around 7.30 pm about one and a half miles south east of Jutten Island gate. That means it took us 11 hours to sail 40 n.miles, producing a world record of slowness in a Pacer 27 to the tune of 3.68 knots average speed. It was actually a lot slower than that, as I haven't factored in the extra distance done, going upwind in zig-zags. The reality is probably closer to 2 knots. Despite what might appear to the uninitiated, to be idyllic conditions, concentration levels in light breeze needs to be extremely high with delicate helm adjustments over each wave. Emotions are stretched to the limit and to make matters worse, most of the crew have to sit on the unnaturally uncomfortable 'wrong' side of the boat to induce heel and sail shape. It was a long day. Very, very long!

Things were dead calm right from 'cast off' time.


We had prepared well for the race and skipped the previous two weeks twilight racing, mainly to give my shoulder a chance to heal after the Fling Regatta saga. Sails had been serviced and I even took enough fuel to cover most of the distance. We were race ready and had our plans and strategy carefully thought out to match the lovely conditions of the forecast. But the 2013 Mykonos Offshore would degenerate into one of the worst races in the event's history (for us).

Personal Mykonos highlight.
By now almost everyone knows that at the end of the prize-giving, I had the immense luck of landing the main lucky draw prize of an 8 day holiday for four couples on a Leopard 44 cat in the Seychelles. That made up in no uncertain measure for all the frustration and discomfort we endured on the race up to Mykonos - and then some! For a person who doesn't believe in luck, this was a really special moment. The two Rio girls on the stage, made me feel like a dwarf with their 10 inch heels and monster head gear. But that's another story.

Seychelles, here we come - (Rio girls not included in package deal)
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

A compulsory skippers briefing was held on the Thursday evening, where a number of changes to the event were explained. Most of those changes had taken place as a result of suggestions by competitors from the 2012 event. The standard "wall start" had been abandoned for a conventional bridge boat start, due to the prevailing south easterly often being absent in that specific spot, making something of a mockery of a yacht race. This was a very positive change and well received by everyone, however the start options (about 8 of them) did not pan out quite as expected. More about that later.

Other changes included a slight shortening of the pursuit race course on the Saturday, as well as the removal of one mark of the course, thereby avoiding having to deviate around the ever expanding mussel beds inside Saldanha Bay. This part of the race was also amended from the 2012 version by not having two courses of differing length. Everyone competed equally in one big fleet as in pre-2011 days. Perhaps the two class concept is not so bad after all, when one sees that only 39 boats out of the 92 entered actually managed to finish within the (hastily extended) 5 pm time limit. Had the race committee stuck to the sailing instructions and the 4 pm cut-off time, there would only have been about 15 finishers. Perhaps those that complained, might want to rethink the 2012 idea a little more carefully. Sailing in a smaller division amongst equally sized boats and getting a finishing position, has to be better than scoring a DNF in a full fleet. What say you?

This picture appropriately captures the entire day.

Friday 22nd February

RCYC came alive at about 0700 as crews arrived for breakfast and boat preps. Not every boat was taking the race too seriously as some crews were observed carrying large crates of beer down the jetty! The Division 2 and 3 fleets were scheduled to start at 0830 and despite a distinct lack of breeze, the PA system crackled into life, warning skippers to get out onto the race course starting zone and that racing would start on time. These two divisions numbered about 60 boats, ranging from 25ft to 47ft, with the larger boats being more of the cruising variety. We had been put into Division 2 right at the upper limit of the rating band split, together with about 25 other boats, including the two other Pacer 27's "Felix the cat" and "Skwert". There was plenty of competition in this division, besides the Pacers, in the form of the Farr 38 "A-L", a brace of well sailed L34's and the Beneteau 7.5 Sportsboat "Always Well". If the breeze came from the south west, we would be in with a good chance, but conditions on Table Bay looked very oily and windless. Almost like sailing on mercury.

We spent the entire day on the 'wrong' side of the boat
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

That start!
RCYC are usually very good at running these mega events, but perhaps moving the bridge crew out of the their bridge hut and onto an unfamiliar boat (the semi-dismasted Beneteau "Ray of Light") caused them some moments of anxiety. The net result was a somewhat chaotic start. About 15 minutes before the start, the bridge announced over the VHF that "Start Card E will be used. There will be no weather mark". That was problem number one, as Start Card E in diagram format, clearly showed a weather mark. There was a secondary problem, in that the diagram showed the start to be facing west, whereas the actual line was facing north. This flummoxed almost all the skippers and confusion reigned supreme. The usual crisp, clear countdowns via VHF of the start signals were inaudible and no hooters could be heard either, despite the quiet conditions. We worked on GPS time and made sure we remained on the course side of the line. The only way we knew the race had started, was when the bridge started calling boats back that were OCS.

And they're off!
As far as we were concerned, it was a downwind start with no weather mark. We quickly got our masthead spinnaker up (the only time in the entire race!) and enjoyed a brief few minutes leading the fleet out of Table Bay. Then the VHF queries started.

"Lapwing" queried the instruction, as clearly a weather mark had been laid - it was visible well to leeward. The bridge responded that there was in fact, a weather mark and it had to be rounded to starboard as per Start Card E. For all yachts this could not possibly have been a problem, as everyone could easily leave it to starboard. It was set more as a limit mark, than a windward mark. Lapwing and Always Well put up spinnakers and headed for the mark, where they rounded the mark by doing a 360 turn around it - then promptly radio'd the bridge announcing they were lodging a protest against all the other boats in the fleet. Well, if you thought there was confusion before, this was something new and frightening to hear as the VHF came alive with all sorts of queries and the validity or lack of it in changing the start card at such short notice. We were of the opinion, after a short discussion, that the intent was to leave the mark to starboard as per the diagram and we carried on on our original course. Needless to say the breeze faded within two or three minutes to almost nothing, then veered all the way to the north, where it resolutely remained for the rest of the day, providing all fleets with the rather daunting prospect of a very long day, beating into a light northerly with a sloppy seaway peppered with kelp and whale snot (or whatever that slimey mucous looking stuff is that we kept on having to sail through). This was our worst case scenario playing itself out. It would prove to be a character building day.

Regent Express in the lead for a few minutes.
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

Big boats dominating
We had barely made a half mile progress northwards, when we heard the IRC and Div 1 fleets starting. In short order the big guns started overtaking us with their tall rigs sucking up air, we had little hope of reaching. After three hours, we were still to the south of Robben Island. It was going to be a very long day, but we kept on hoping the forecast would be correct, so our plan was to remain on the west side of the course and place ourselves to windward of the new breeze, when it arrived. We were in fairly sharp company, as many of the top boats decided to leave the island to starboard. There was no knowing what the boats were experiencing on the east side of the island, and its always a nailbiting time to see who gains or loses on the far side exit. The ocean was disappointingly empty when we crossed the north side of the island, but you know, hope springs eternal and all that rubbish.

If the wind is from astern, we have a chance.
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

Pain - lots of it!
We soldiered on, hour after hour, with each 10 degree backing of the compass bringing fresh hope of the westerly's arrival, but then it would slowly veer north again and our spirits would wane. By the time we were abeam Koeberg Power Station it was well past 3 pm and our on-board maths boffins were calculating time and distance stuff, which result made for even more despairing news. We would make neither the race one, two or three cut-off times, unless we could pick our boat speed up to over 6,5 knots average. Sometimes, we would squeeze just over 5 knots of speed out of the boat and then the puff would fade and the log would drop down to zero. And so it went all day long. Boats were retiring in an endless stream, with some even heading back to Cape Town. We resolutely stuck with our game plan of remaining to the west of the rhumb line. At about 6.30 pm we heard Felix the cat retiring, followed half an hour later by Skwert. That meant we were the last Pacer 27 still in the race. The sun set around about that time in an exquisite display of pinks and blues over an oily ocean.

Dassen Island Lighthouse at 20h00 Friday evening
Photo: Charles Crosby

Last of the Mohicans
The Dassen island gate was only about a mile and a half north of our position and we had till midnight to get there. One and a half miles in four hours? It was most certainly doable, but what was the point, when it still required another 5 hours of motoring from the gate to the finish and we had to be ready to race again at 10.30 the next morning? We threw in the towel at 7.30 pm and called the Dassen gate boat with our retirement.

The total absence of wind at least made up for things with a spectacularly beautiful sunset.
Photo: Charles Crosby

As the sun set, it became ice cold offshore, and one by one crew members fell asleep down below or in the cockpit. Those that had not had helming duties all day, were now given a stint at the helm - easy enough. "Just point the boat at South Head Light for four and half hours and wake me when you get there" I went below for some shut-eye to the raucus sound of a five horsepower outboard vibrating and groaning with the entire hull resonating like a big amplifier. I have had better sleeps in my life, but I have also had worse (like the night spent sleeping on London's Victoria Station after a delayed flight from Turkey). But that's also another story. We finally docked at four minutes past midnight - cold, hungry, sleepy, disgruntled and salty.

Two crew on watch, with Craig Preston driving - the rest asleep for the interminably long motor sail to Mykonos.
Photo: Charles Crosby

Saturday, 23rd February - Pursuit Bay race.

A good port tack angle to the weather mark on the blue waters of the Langebaan Lagoon.
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

By now all readers understand the format of pursuit racing. Slower boats start first and the idea is that theoretically everyone should finish at the same time. Theory and reality are seldom the same as is the case in this type of racing. The first boats started racing at 10.30 in a light, but steady southerly, which would back later into more of a westerly. The three Pacer's and the Farr 38 A-L started together at 12.04 with the Farr 38 easily rounding the weather mark well ahead. All three Pacers rounded within a few seconds of each other in the order Felix the cat, Skwert and Regent Express.

Super Sport TV coverage on the rotary wing

We all put up maximum size masthead spinnakers but none of the boats were able to hold the course, being overpowered. Felix the cat managed to squeeze through to windward of a large cat, but immediately after, the cat luffed, forcing Skwert and Regent Express to leeward. Regent Express powered over Skwert, but both lost a fair amount of height to Felix the cat in the process as well as having to sail low to clear the cat's wind shadow. Felix the cat and Regent Express dropped spinnakers at the same time and hoisted smaller, fractional spinnakers. By the time Skwert followed suit, the other two Pacers had opened up quite a gap.

Prepping for the A2 hoist
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

The reach remained at 80 degrees apparent all the way to the Dial Rock mark, taking away any tactical advantages which might have been available on the old course. Sailing Instructions indicated that cardinal marks had to be left to starboard exiting the bay, which resulted in several protests being lodged against errant boats. Once past the No.2 channel marker, the usual beam reach down to the North Bay mark, had turned into a tight fetch. We had the A34 Alliance Francaise just ahead of us, so quickly changed to our code zero and drew level with them. We spent the entire leg abeam, or slightly behind them, and finally managed to break through and get ahead 200 meters before the mark. The advantage would be short lived, as they out perform us easily upwind.

A rare opportunity to roll the A35
Photo: Alliance Francaise

"Best practice" for the long beat up to Jutten is to tack onto starboard as early as possible and sail all the way to Jutten on one long tack - get into the header and tack to be lifted all the way around the island. Felix the cat had gone much higher up into the bay - a tactic which had cost us dearly the previous year. The wind dropped from 10 knots down to 5 and it was slow going getting over and the ever present kelp was proving to be problematic as well. When we got close to the island, the header wasn't there but we had neither gained nor lost during the crossing, but the big boats were cruising past us in numbers. The rounding of Jutten island was horrible, with the wind dropping down to 2 knots, with big swells and rough surf making for some uncomfortable moments. We were astounded how close some of the big boats dared to go to the surf line - amongst those Ballyhoo Too and DHL..

Boat eating rocks!

Once past the danger zone, the breeze filled in, as it always does on Jutten's southern side, and we hoisted the A2 masthead kite and got some decent speed as we worked the VMG angles down to the North East buoy. Vulcan and Cape Fling both overtook us on this leg and then we got headered and were forced to sail a great circle route, having to gybe twice more to lay the mark. That cost us plenty. Felix the cat had a 1000 meter lead on us and we were about half that distance ahead of Skwert.

Hard on the wind - which was how we sailed the vast majority of this event.
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

As we were working the shoreline upwind on starboard tack, we were astonished to see the Farr 38 A-L, coming down the run from the final mark towards the finish already - almost one a half legs ahead of us. There was not another boat to be seen along the entire leg behind them. They had a huge lead and of great concern to us, was that they had started with us (having the same rating) and would finish between 20 and 40 minutes ahead of all three Pacer 27's. Talk about another emphatic win! The breeze remained a steady 10 to 12 knots and we enjoyed a decent reach back to the finish to cross in 27th place. Felix the cat nailed a 14th, whilst Skwert got a 30th. Only 39 boats finished within the time limit.

Robbie van Rooyen of "A-L" and winner of Div 2, collecting the silverware
For full results go to

The Rio Girls added a touch of glamour to the occassion.

Winners & Losers - All part of the sport
Vulcan (Hylton Hale) was the overall winner and Warrior (Rick Nankin/Phill Gutsche) took line honours in the distance race, arriving around 8 pm on the Friday evening. Needless to say, no records were broken. The potential speeds of the performance cats and trimaran's never materialized either, due to the lack of breeze.

Despite the unfortunate weather, the Mykonos 2013 still came up trumps, simply because it is so well organized. There were a few gremlins which crept in, mainly with the start at RCYC and of course, the mark and gate boat were the wrong way around. Under the circumstances, no-one found the latter to be an issue. However, the start issues need to be revisited and possibly made simpler. Well done to Hylton Hale and his team on a very well run event and in particular the bridge crew, scorers and the Dassen Gate boat crew who spent a very long day and night counting boats. The Mykonos Offshore remains South Africa's No.1 Offshore yacht race.

Aerobatics on time
The SAAF Silver Falcons Aerobatic team treated the sailors to a display of aerobatics exactly on time at 17h00. This is just one of the many factors that makes the Mykonos Offshore so special and brings the yachtsmen and women back year after year.

Screenings of the Mykonos Offshore will take place on Super Sport. Please check for schedules. A big thank you to all the sponsors, and in my case, The Moorings Yacht Charters - "How cool is that?"

Man of the Match
Final comment is the man/lady of the match award, which goes to Anchen Stemmet, the harbour master at Club Mykonos for a sterling job accommodating everyone (except Warrior) and remaining on duty the entire weekend ensuring everyone was properly taken care of.

Hauling out
These are the last photographs that were taken under the Regent Express label. Regent Insurance sponsored us for six years, and we are sad to see them go. With effect from 1st March, 2013, the boat will have a new name and new look. Anyone seriously interested in sponsoring, can contact me via the CONTACT page.

The Club Mykonos marina staff, under the watchful eye of Anchen Stemmet, expertly placed the boat on the trailer exactly as we wanted it. The entire operation was painless.
Photo: Trygve Roberts

We towed the boat back to Cape Town in 1 hour and 40 minutes at an average speed of 40 knots - a considerable improvement over the 3.68 knot average on the way up!