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Pacer 27 National Championships.

Last updated on 14 Oct 2009

Race in a nutshell:
Felix the Cat in winning form.
A two month planning period preceded this regatta which included hours spent poring over and editing pack lists and travel plans. It has been about 10 years since I undertook an away regatta (which included carting the boat behind the car) - and that time the boat weighed 45 kgs! Try that with a 1200kg boat and five crew and suddenly it becomes a logistical nightmare. 

Two of us undertook the road trip (mainly because the Pacer wont fit into the hold of an Airbus) working in shifts of two hours, whilst the other three hopped on a plane. No matter how efficiently we tackled the driving, the "Time To Go" showed a trip duration of 18 hours. It is a long, long way and concentration levels have to remain high. The most important thing to remember is that the total length of your vehicle/rig is 18 meters. Swinging back into your lane after overtaking leaves the tip of the mast a full two and a half meters astern of the transom. Diligence is what is required. 

Our trip was fairly uneventful, but we had headwinds the whole way there, which meant the instrument showing the most movement on the dashboard was the fuel guage. After 13 hours we needed a rest, so we pulled in at a small roadside establishment called "Uncle Tom's Cabins". It is about 30 km. south of Bloemfontein. You can take my advice and not visit there or read on and convince yourself anyway. 

We arrived in the dark. About 6.45pm. A young local girl was manning the so called reception office. She was so involved playing with her cellphone that I eventually had to ask her to put her phone away and attend to us. R370 for a cabin was the tariff and on inquiring we were told that the 'restuarant' closed at 8pm. It was cold and blustery as we drove to the cabin and found a safe spot to park the boat and Land Cruiser. As we opened the door to the cabin, a pair of resident cockroaches sped across the floor to take refuge behind the skirting board. At least the cabin boasted four beds in two separate rooms. The place was superficially clean, but dark floral coloured fabric on the pillow cases had me wondering.....Attempts have been made at revitalising the place...mainly with new tiles, but the tiles must have been of the type that could not get sold and were probably bought at a sale on the cheap - really yukky colours and incredibly kitch. I tried the bed and immediately found myself rolling into the middle of the mattress. Guaranteed back ache by morning! 

We changed into warmer clothes and located the restuarant. One lady did the ordering, cooking and waitressing. Her name was 'Stompie'. Eish! The restaurant had an open painted concrete floor filled with a dozen picnic benches, no curtains and no carpets. A radio played loudly in one corner on Radio Metro Talk Show (in Sotho). The food was barely edible and visions of cockroaches kept clouding my judgement. We were the only patrons. Beer was on offer. Windhoek Light or Castle Lager. At least it was beer. The meal was nothing short of a joke despite Stompie doing her best to please. I guess the consolation is neither of us got food poisoning. In short, Uncle Tom should have bulldozed his cabins to the ground a long time ago. The place has been there for as long as I can remember (which is about 50 years!). No amount of superficial tarting up can change the "bult in 1956" feeling. Everything looks and feels tired. The owner is giving this business one last squeeze. In short - a rip-off! 

That night a strong northerly wind howled around the shrubbery which has not been trimmed in many years see-sawed and groaned as it scraped against the windows and gutters making for a generally disturbed night's rest. This had been noted two months prior by another unfortunate but polite visitor in the complaints book, who (typically South African) had written: "Ons her lekker gebly, maar kan julle asb die plante snoei want dit krap teen die geute". 

I was up at 04h00 determined to vacate the cabin as soon as humanly possible. 

On the trip home we decided to drive non-stop through the night. Anything to avoid Uncle Tom's Cabins. You have been warned.

All the Pacer 27's lined up at the jetty at DAC on a 100% full Vaal Dam.

Seriously close one design racing is what this event was all about. Despite the fairly small entry of six boats, those that were on the water enjoyed outstanding close quarters racing with many of the races seeing four Pacers finishing within 30 seconds of each other. Ant Wentworth’s  ‘Felix the Cat’ ended up as the overall winners, notwithstanding the top four boats all finishing on 10 points each for a four way tie. Second placed ‘Regent Express’ ended with an identical scoreline to ‘Felix the cat’ where the tie was broken on the better position in the final race – the very race where ‘Regent Express’  skippered by Trygve Roberts had a halyard break and sent them plummeting from a possible 1st place right down to last in the final race. They jury rigged a second halyard and fought back to finish 4th in the final race, but it was one point too little for the overall win. Finishing 3rd overall was Andrea Giovaninni on ‘Pacer 3’ fresh from a similar podium finish in the Lipton Cup. He said after the event he could not believe how competitive the Pacer fleet was and had underestimated the quality of the racing. 

What a pleasure to go sailing on absolutely flat water in fresh breeze in shorts and T Shirts. This is something the guys from the Cape seldom get to do. Conditions on the Vaal for the first two days suited the Pacers perfectly with fresh breezes and flat water which makes the Pacer 27 Sport a delight to sail. Two yachts in the gold and silver fleets were dismasted which says something of how strong the breeze was. None of the Pacers suffered any such maladies. 

Noticeable in this regatta was the number of boats sporting new sails from a range of sailmakers. Felix the cat had a new Genoa from Hyde Sails; Pacer 3 sported a new main, genoa and spinnaker from North Sails, Unruly has a new genoa from Hyde and Regent Express had a new genoa and spinnaker from Quantum. New sails in the fleet is always a sign of keen interest and competitiveness in a class. 

This was the third Pacer 27 Nationals and certainly different from the first two, where Rick Nankin and Mark Sadler dominated the results. This event saw four of the six entries each winning a race. The regatta was never a foregone conclusion till the final day. Fresh to strong winds on the Vaal Dam (18 to 32 knots) saw the Pacers ripping through the fleet downwind reaching speeds above 16 knots and providing some spectacular broaches for those seeking visual thrills. The only non Pacer that could keep up was the Farrier trimaran. 
Above: Some start line action on day one.

Four Pacers arriving at the bottom mark

The weather was exceptionally good for the first two days, whereafter it faded completely not allowing any additional races for the entire weekend – a first in the last six years that DAC have had no racing during this annual event on any given day. No-one really complained as the first two days were simply fantastic for keelboat racing.

Deneysville Aquatic Club hosted the Pacer Nationals as part of their annual Keel Boat Week regatta, which attracted some 50 entries of mixed classes, with the Mistral, J22 and Hunters all making class. Three Pacers undertook the long journey from Cape Town, as did one from Port Elizabeth with the final two being Vaal Dam based. Amongst the crews were some very good sailors, many who have sailed at world championship level. On Felix the cat, a number of World Class Hobie sailors were to be seen including Blaine Dodds, William Edwards and Allan Lawrence who steered. Sailmakers from Hyde and North were dotted amongst the other Pacers. There was no question as to how tough the competition was going to be. It would be a tough event to win for sure. 
The fleet enjoyed tight racing throughout the event.

D.A.C. as always proved to be a competent and friendly club who did a sterling job of feeding and entertaining the sailors, whilst Race Officer Trevor Hulleman, competently and patiently ensured the required number of races were completed. There were one or two issues (listed at the end of the article) to assist organisers in getting it 100% right next time, but first let’s get down to the racing. 

The entry list included ‘Sebago’ skippered by Guy Nottingham (DAC); ‘Unruly’ Iain Gibson (DAC); ‘Unmatched’ Graham Wentworth (ABYC); ‘Felix the cat’ Allan Lawrence (RCYC); ‘Pacer 3’ Andrea Giovaninni (RCYC) and ‘Regent Express’ Trygve Roberts (RCYC). 

With a moderate northerly forecast, the fleet set off for the middle of the dam on Heritage day (Sep 24th) to commence racing. The format was a simple windward/leeward course with an offset mark to port of the windward mark to help clear the fleet away from the usually congested weather mark. There were four separate starts for the Pacers, Gold, Silver and Cruising fleets each separated by a five minute gap.
Ron de Vlieg (Sebago) dicing with Andrea Giovaninni (Pacer 3)

Race one got underway with an individual recall in the Pacer fleet with the errant party returning to restart correctly. The course was short with a middle of the course start/finish line to facilitate rapid race restarts with the Pacer and Gold fleet boats having to complete three laps with the smaller boats doing only two laps. Notwithstanding the short courses, it provided for a huge amount of action in the Pacer fleet, which would end up completing the downwind legs in only three minutes. This left many of the crews questioning their lack of fitness at the end of the first day’s racing. Going up the first beat it was Regent Express and Pacer 3 reaching the weather mark first. Just before the weather mark Pacer 3 caught ‘Felix the cat’ port/starboard. Felix tacked in front of Pacer 3 and a collision occurred with Pacer 3's bowsprit which was already extended. This incident would become an issue throughout the regatta and was only resolved after the main prize giving was completed. This was a pity, as the niggle between the two boats continued for the entire regatta. Neither boat retired nor did a penalty. Pacer 3 protested and hurriedly hoisted a red T-Shirt in place of a protest flag. More about the protest later, but there are many lessons for everyone to be learned from this incident. The main lesson is that if a collision has occurred one of the boats must do penalty turns or retire. 

Pacer 3 were a little slow getting their spinnaker drawing, allowing Regent Express to take the lead but all the boats wanted to gybe onto port leaving Regent Express with no options but to wait until the fleet had gybed. By the time she gybed she was blanketed by three boats to windward and she immediately lost that number of places. Just about that time a 30 knot gust whipped over the dam leaving all the Pacer’s on their ear with spinnakers flapping, but no-one broached and soon all were underway again screeching downwind at 15 knots trying to avoid the smaller boats still coming upwind on their first beat. It must have been an intimidating sight. 

At the leeward mark five of the boats arrived simultaneously, highlighting the one design aspect of these boats. The next beat saw the lead changing hands with Felix the cat getting a little ahead. The wind steadied into a solid 20 knot breeze which had most of the Pacers hard pressed under No.1 genoas.

The finishing order was: 

1st Felix the cat (Protest pending) 
2nd Pacer 3 
3rd Unruly 
4th Regent Express 
5th Sebago 
6th Unmatched 

After the protest on the final day this result changed to: 

1st Pacer 3 
2nd Unruly 
3rd Regent Express 
4th Sebago 
5th Unmatched 
6th Felix the cat (DSQ)

Race 2 was sailed back to back in a steady northerly. This time all the Pacers started cleanly with Regent Express, Sebago and Felix all showing good upwind speed, arriving in rapid order at the weather mark. The boats remained within seconds of each other for most of the race with Regent Express slowly gaining on Felix the cat. Guy Nottingham and his crew on Sebago had some gear failure which saw them at the tail end of the fleet. Finishing times of the first four boats were under 30 seconds. Felix had notched up their second bullet and were establishing a pattern which would make it difficult to get them unseated. 

Finishing order was: 
1st Felix the cat 
2nd Regent Express 
3rd Pacer 3 
4th Unruly 
5th Unmatched 
6th Sebago

That evening the protest between Pacer 3 and Felix the cat was heard. During the validation procedure Felix the cat objected that Pacer 3’s protest flag had not been conventional (too big). On that basis the protest was disallowed (which raised many an eyebrow). Pacer 3 then withdrew their protest but they were very unhappy about the protest committee’s decision and thought it to not to be in the spirit of the sport. After discussing the incident and looking up the rules governing protest flags, no clear rule could be found as to whether there was any limitation on the size of a protest flag. The youngsters on Pacer 3 decided to request for the hearing to be re-opened the following day. 

That night DAC had laid on an entertainer – a one man band singing to backing tapes. This poor unfortunate soul did not manage to sing a single note in key the entire evening, but his party personality carried him through and by late evening he had the multitude singing deafiningly out of tune with him – all of this in a highly inebriated state. No-one seemed to care as he belted his own tone deaf renditions of Sinatra favourites from yester-year. 

For the more serious competitors, sleep came with difficulty as the noise levels soared into the early hours of the morning over a wind still and dark Vaal Dam.

Friday 25th Sep: 
We awoke to a steady northerly and a positive forecast for the day where the breeze would peak at a 32 knot gust. And who said there is no real wind on the Vaal? 

By the scheduled 10am start the wind was well into the 22 knot range so some of the Pacer skippers decided to go for a smaller headsail. Amongst those were Regent Express and Unmatched. This is a fairly big risk as changing a headsail on a downwind leg on such a short course is simply not possible in 3 minutes. If the breeze drops during the race, you are toast. 

The fleet hit the line on cue for a clean start. At the weather mark, it was Felix the cat, Unruly, Pacer 3 and Regent Express around the top mark. The first three all gybed early heading for the left side of the course whilst Regent Express continued on the starboard gybe heading towards the right hand layline. They timed their gybe perfectly and came belting down on the port reach at 16 knots to take a 20 boat length lead out of the opposition going from 4th to 1st in one leg. Going up the beat, it became clear that they were as fast as the rest of the fleet with a smaller headsail and more under control, but not pointing quite as high, except in the gusts. Unruly was steadily eroding their lead upwind, but the moment the downwind leg started Regent Express increased their lead again. At the final leeward mark rounding, Regent Express did a slow spinnaker strike, resulting in the kite going in the water and slowing them down. By the time they recovered, Unruly was two boat lengths astern. A clever bit of covering got Regent Express over the line first but by the narrowest of margins. 

Race 3: 
1st Regent Express 
2nd Unruly 
3rd Pacer 3 
4th Felix the cat 
5th Sebago 
6th Unmatched

Race 4 was sailed back to back in a stiff breeze well into the mid twenty knot range. Regent Express changed up to their number one genoa. Another smooth start for the Pacer fleet got underway. Local boat Sebago handled the first beat very well to round first and hung on to their narrow lead for the whole race but they were hard pressed by the rest of the fleet. There were plenty of mini broaches, but in general the Pacer crews were handling the boats well with good gybes on the downwind legs. Felix managed a solid 2nd place, whilst Regent Express had a bad kite strike and scored their worst result of the regatta. 

1st Sebago 
2nd Felix the cat 
3rd Pacer 3 
4th Unruly 
5th Regent Express 
6th Unmatched 

One of the peculiarities of this regatta was racing in a mixed fleet of mostly very old and very slow small boats. Approaching the leeward mark doing 16 knots with 500 meters to go with several smaller boats almost at the leeward mark, made decision making crucial as the Pacers would come hurtling in to the mark doing five times the speed of the slower boats. Calling for rights became a very stressful exercise. In general most of the slower boats were graceful in allowing the Pacers room to pass. There was one occasion as we were approaching the offset weather mark with a Vivacity 24 to leeward of us, where we called to the skipper (very politely) if it would be OK if we gybed in front of him. He was so polite and accommodating, that he sailed straight into the offset mark and gybed himself, sailing back towards where he had just come from. We located the hapless skipper on shore some time later, to explain that he did not have to do what he did, but “thank you very much anyway”. Nice people at DAC, I tell you.

Race 5 – Another back to back race on the same day with crews starting to get distinctly weary. The short legs meant the crews were working very hard with many gybes and tacks in the mix. A cracking start once again for the Pacers, but suddenly with a minute to go and all the Pacers lining up under the committee boat, two ladies on a J22, Savannah’s in hand, found themselves unwittingly in trouble and in irons right in front of the Pacers. Regent Express was forced to bear away and gybe to get out of the J22’s way. The fleet was tightly bunched as usual at the weather mark with Sebago, Regent Express and Unruly leading the way. Just after rounding the leeward mark, lying a close second behind Sebago, Regent Express had a jib halyard failure. In a few seconds they lost their place to end at the tail of the fleet with their headsail on the foredeck, struggling upwind with only their mainsail. They then rehoisted the genoa on the spinnaker halyard – not ideal as the spinnaker halyard is a masthead unit and got underway to chase the pack down. Of course hoists and strikes were slow as each time they had to re-attach the halyard to whichever sail had to be used next. The old adage of the ‘the show ain’t over till the fat lady has sung’ came into play, as on the final downwind leg Pacer 3 did a bad strike and broached at the leeward mark, putting the kite under boat. So bad was the result of the broach that they decided to retire. Regent Express rounded and managed to chase down Unmatched as well to claim a 4th place despite the halyard handicap. But it was Sebago who had found the magic with two excellent bullets in the final two races. Unfortunately it was too little too late as the fates had already been cast to the wind. Sebago was the only boat to score more than one first place.

Above: Andrea Giovaninni and his team broaching Pacer 3 out of Race 5. The kite ended up under the boat causing a RTD result.

After racing Pacer 3’s request to reopen the protest hearing was denied on the grounds that it had been withdrawn by them the previous day, so there was technically no protest to reopen. This made the youngsters very unhappy and the situation was starting to get uncomfortable. It was clear to most of the skippers and crews that the original protest hearing had been somewhat flawed and probably unfair. 

That night the party animals were in full swing again as a discotheque belted out a mix of old favourites and modern hip hop, but oh man we were so bushed that sleep overwhelmed us by 10pm. The noise from the clubhouse woke us and most of the competitors camping there at 1.30am. A power outage would surely solve the problem? And so it was that the main power mysteriously tripped a short while later, which killed the party despite vigorous attempts at reviving it. The next night there was a big padlock on the power box. Say no more!

Saturday 26th: 
The morning dawned in it’s usual pattern with a flock of rowdy Ibis “hah de dahing” in the trees above our tents at 0600. There was an air of anticipation as the fleet headed out towards Beacon Island which, with the dam at 94% capacity, was nothing more than a simple trig beacon sticking out the water in an unexpected place. Sailing past the beacon, our depth sounder went from 22m depth rapidly to 2.0m. It was about that time that we discussed whether the sounder was set for depth below the transducer or depth below the bottom of the keel. There was no bump, so whatever it was, we were clear. 
The dam was nothing at all like the previous two days. The organisers must have known that this would be the case as each boat had been issued with a large volume water canon. After an hour’s wait for the non existent breeze to fill in, the crews soon got the water canons employed and a huge water fight ensued which included the bridge boat getting doused. Not to be outgunned, large capacity buckets were hauled on deck in lieu of heavy artillery. 

Race 6: 
At 11h00 a gentle southerly sneaked across the dam – about 4 knots of it - so a course was set and the start sequence started. There was some port bias on the line which most of the skippers picked up which put most of the boats at the pin end and under pressure. Regent Express had a good start and gradually inched ahead. They appeared to have good speed in the light breeze and rounded the weather mark first, ahead of Pacer 3 and Felix the cat. Regent Express and the rest of the fleet sailed towards the starboard side of the course, whilst Pacer 3 gybed away and went back into the traffic. Regent Express was pulling out a big lead and about halfway to the leeward mark when the breeze died right across the course and the three hooters were sounded signaling racing abandoned for the day. The fleet headed back to base for a lazy afternoon on the lawns and increased beer sales. 

Later that day Pacer 3 initiated their third attempt at re-opening their protest hearing against Felix the cat. The problem had been festering from day one and just wouldn’t go away. For the third time their appeal was declined by the local protest committee. By that stage Andrea and his team of young crew were feeling highly frustrated and the failed protest had become unpleasant for everyone in the Pacer class. It was probably also affecting their on the water performance. Andrea refused to give up as a matter of principle and continued to seek advice from senior officials and sailors. Once the appeal was declined for the third time, the only option left open was for a witnessing competitor to lodge a protest as no penalty turns were done and one of the boats would have to be disqualified. This was done on Sunday morning the 27th September by Unruly who had been a witness to the incident. 

That night it was yet again party night till the wee hours of the morning (2 am) making sleep difficult. The electrical control box had in the meantime been securely locked to prevent the good Samaritan who had killed the noise the previous night from repeating his good deed. Other remedies were considered which included teargas and catapults. Eventually quiet descended over the camp at 2.30 am.

Sunday 27th: 

The following day was a repeat of the previous day with hot, breathless conditions on the Vaal. Some of the boats rafted up for a bit of socialising as the long wait for breeze continued, followed shortly by round two of the water canon wars. By noon race officer, Trevor Hulleman, called it off and sent the fleet back to moorings. The regatta was over and all competitors had one discard. 

Whilst the boats were being hauled out in preparation for the long journey home, the protest lodged by Unruly against Felix the cat and Pacer 3, was heard. This time by a fresh protest committee consisting of some of the most experienced legal sailing brains in the region. 

Prize giving commenced at 15h30 sharp as the audience were informed that the Pacer results could not be announced due to a protest being in session. By the end of the lengthy prize giving, the protest was still under way. The crowd dispersed leaving only the rest of the Pacer crews in attendance. This was not only a pity, but somewhat of an anti-climax and detracted from what should have been a pleasant moment for the winning teams. Eventually the result of the protest was announced, which was that Felix the cat was disqualified in Race 1. Up till that point they had been the clear regatta leaders, but now the results were expected to change the standings. As things turned out, the first four boats all ended on 10 points after a single discard. Closer than that, one could not get. 

Felix the cat and Regent Express had a dead tie for 1st overall with both boats having a scoreline of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, but in such a tie the boat with the better result in the final race wins the tiebreaker. Felix the cat had a 3rd versus Regent Express’s 4th (where they broke their jib halyard). 

Regent Express crew L-R: Greg Harrowsmith, Charles Crosby, Simon Penso, Phill Rentschler

Final Results: 
1st Felix the Cat 007 [Allan Lawrence] R1: DSQ, R2 1st, R3 4th, R4 2nd, R5 3rd: Total 17 Pts. less Discard 7 pts = 10 pts (Gold medals) 

2nd Regent Express 017 [Trygve Roberts] R1 3rd, R2 2nd, R3 1st, R4 5th, R5 4th: Total 15 Pts less Discard 5 Pts = 10 pts (Silver medals) 

3rd Pacer 3 003 (Andrea Giovaninni) R1 1st, R2 3rd, R3 3rd, R4 3rd, R5 DNF: Total 17 Pts less Discard 7 Pts = 10 pts 

4th Unruly 011 [Iain Gibson]R1 2nd, R2 4th, R3 2nd, R4 4th, R5 2nd: Total 14 Pts less Discard 4 Pts = 10 pts 

5th Sebago 010 [Guy Nottingham] R1 4th, R2 6th, R3 5th, R4 1st, R5 1st: Total 17 Pts less Discard 6 Pts = 11 Pts 

6th Unmatched 001 [Graham, Wentworth] R1 5th, R2 5th, R3 DNF, R4 6th, R5 5th: Total 28 Pts less Discard 7 Pts = 21 Pts

And finally the event rating : Score 80% 
1.Friendly and welcoming host club 
2. Efficient race committee and mark layers 
3. Excellent launching and recovery service 
4. Good ferry service 
5. Courtesy moorings available to all visitors 
6. Very good catering with real home made food at very reasonable prices 
7. Spotless and modern ablutions with mainly enough hot water available except at certain peak times 
8. Pleasant camping on lawns close to the water 
9. Walk on finger jettys available during daylight hours (and at night if you wished to take the risk) 
10. Good security 
11. Efficient bar service 
12. Big club house with pool table 
13. Workshop and tools available for repairs 
14. Wonderful, relaxing climate 
15. Good entertainment and play areas for kids 

The cons: 

1. Terrible choice of entertainment with absurdly loud and deafening volumes which precluded any level of normal conversation. When will clubs learn that the sailors want to talk about the days racing and not fight banks of huge speakers big enough for a rugby stadium and crammed into a tiny bar? 
2. Keeping the bar open till 2am meant the noise did not end till 3am which meant poor sleep quality for the more serious competitors. (I suggest sacrificing some bar profits in favour of campers getting some reasonable shuteye) Close the bar at 11.30pm which will have most party animals in bed by midnight. In most campsites, music is required to be turned off by 10pm, so midnight is a reasonable goal. Please DAC, don’t ever punish us like that again. 
3. Cigarette smoke. The entire club house smells of stale cigarette smoke. No-one pays any attention to the no smoking signs in the main dining area including permanent staff of the club, who all appear to be retired people and most of them smoke habitually. Really people, this is 2009, keep the buildings smoke free and if you must smoke, do so in a cordoned off (glassed) area to save the rest of humanity breathing in your second hand smoke. It is just plain unpleasant and unhealthy to non smokers, not to mention illegal. 

This regatta gets 8 out of 10 despite the lack of breeze for the final two days. Well done DAC. Please work on the above points and we will be back for sure for the long haul from the Cape.

Some trivia for those planning to attend an event on the Vaal: 
The trip took 18 hours either way. 
Fuel consumption towing the Pacer was 3.7 kms per liter (Toyota Land Cruiser 4.5 Petrol) 
Cost of fuel was approximately R 6000 
Distance covered 2400 km.

Above: Lulama Dlamini, national marketing manager for Regent Insurance came down to the Vaal to meet the team. We took her out for a sail in some very light breeze. As can be seen, she was impressed!

Photo: Charles Crosby