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HARKEN Robben Island Race - 26th Jan 2013

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Race in a nutshell
Course: Start #10 (P) – Paarden Island (P) – Robben Island (P) - Fin 10 (P)
Wind & Seas: Strong SE (30 - 40 knots) interspersed with periods of flat calm and a light westerly of 2 to 5 knots. Temp: 25C. Seas lumpy & choppy.
Sails: Full and Reefed Main (Quantum); No.2 Genoa (Quantum); A-3 Spinnaker (North): A0 Spinnaker (Quantum)
Crew: Damien Botha, Craig Preston, Craig Latigan (aka Pinky), Daniel Spratley, Jason Gray, Trygve Roberts. Total Mass: (490 kg)
Max Speed: 19.0 knots
Distance: 26 nm
Position: 5th (Div 2 Spin) [mainly due to the rest retiring!] and 13 th overall
Fleet size: 37

Always the same, yet totally different
The south easter had been howling all night and showed little sign of abating. The drive into town had the car doing that little lane-changing jiggle, which gives me a fair indication of what conditions will be like on the bay. (Reef+No.2+Fractional kite).

We had Charles and Phill missing from the team and had Pinky (Craig) Latigan and Jason Gray standing in. We decided from the outset to be conservative and rigged with a reefed main and a smaller fractional spinnaker.That was a smart choice at least.

Regent Express getting to the first mark with the heavies.
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

Hanging in with the big boys
We had a fairly good start (it was an all class start) and kept pace with most of the 40 footers for the clearing fetch up to Paarden Island. The moment the A3 went up, the little Pacer hopped onto the plane and we enjoyed a steady reach at good deep angles of around 110 degrees apparent, down the beach towards Blouberg, averaging around 15 knots and peaking out at 19. There were never any issues about broaching. The boat felt stable and light. It didn't take long and we had a big separation from the fleet. Vulcan (GP42) had gone inshore and disappeared from view, They too were enjoying the conditions and were doing a steady 20 knots down towards the island.

What things look like up close

.....and from the bridge hut - We are the red kite; far right.
Gybe time
We held onto our starboard reach until we ran out of water and managed an imperfect gybe, but at least we didn't broach and soon we were high-tailing it on port back towards the northern tip of the island on the gybe line. The angle was about as perfect as anyone could have called it. We were pulling a lot more white water onboard on the new gybe, as we were hitting the waves at an uncomfortable angle. This was probably when we drowned our trusty old Garmin hand held. (We have been unsucessful in resuscitation attempts!) Our course was taking us between two large anchored ships and we had some concerns about wind shadow, but with us being right on the edge and going flat out, any question of changing course, was discarded immediately.

Conditions were a little on the wild side
Photo: Trevor Wilkins

We have competition!
The Beneteau sports-boat Always Well had managed to keep pace with us. They were sailing with a full main and were able to sail a bit deeper than us, but we weren't concerned, as we are quicker than them upwind and the race was just 30 minutes old with plenty of work left to do. As we approached the island, the south easter started fading slightly, resulting in us having to sail hotter to maintain our VMG, which in turn meant having to throw in two more gybes. On our port side we could see Windpower (Landmark 43) getting themselves into all sorts of gybing trouble. That gave us the privilege of being the second boat (Vulcan was first around) to reach the northern tip of the island. But we had stiff competition in the form of the J111 Tenacity and Always Well in close proximity.

With the breeze fading fast, we decided it was time to shake out the reef, which went off smoothly. Within another 5 minutes, we were into a light westerly with all the crew on the leeward side of the boat. Unbelievable, but fairly typical of a summer time sail around the island. The normally dangerous surf set on the western side of the island was less ponderous than normal, but the breeze was rapidly becoming lottery stuff, with random boats getting the odd puff, only to lose it again a few minutes later. Very soon, the western and northern sides of the island became a parking lot as the fleet started compressing. Only Vulcan came through unscathed..

Two boats in our little group came out nicely from that lot – one was the J111 which picked up a small track of westerly and held onto it for a very long time. The other was Always Well, who got half a mile ahead of us and we were never able to make up the deficit, despite our upwind advantage over them.

Struggling through the calm zone on the southern side of Robben Island
Photo courtesy Alexandre Monet

Hanging in
It had taken us just under 30 minutes to get from the start to the northern tip of the island. It took two hours to get around the western flank of the island in a progressive series of drift, wait, puff. Really frustrating stuff. Once past the last reef line, we put up our Code Zero and tried to gain some distance to the east to get back into the south easter. It was desperately slow stuff in a lumpy, rolling ocean. The first boat to call the bridge to announce their retirement was Celine lV. That (typically) started a flood of retirements. I stopped counting after 10, but we decided to stick it out as we had to sail back anyway and the gale force south easter was still out there on the east side of the bay and we had a good chance of finishing within the time limit.

Tough times
We were still within close proximity of Windpower, the A35 and Always Well, all of whom got the breeze before us and took off, leaving us wallowing in circles grossly underpowered, as we had decided to put the reef back in before we got into the strong stuff. We spent another five agonizing minutes and then we were finally into the new breeze and heading upwind at good speed, but the waves were very awkward for us. We would get the boat up to target speed of 6,2 knots then hit a wave and come out of it at 4 knots, build up speed – next wave and so on, ad nauseum. It was hard work, but a lot better than wallowing in a calm.

We worked the more gentle outer edge of the wind band in a series of long port tacks. As soon as the breeze would look like fading, we would put in a hitch to starboard and then high tail it back onto port once the breeze went over 35 knots, which is about the upper limit of what we can handle in the Pacer 27. Several boats recorded wind speeds in excess of 40 knots. Very strong breeze, lumpy/choppy seas and dead upwind are amongst the most unfavourable conditions for the Pacer 27. What was alarming, was to see an L26 fairly close astern. This turned out to be Peter Bam on Hors D Ouvers. Not only were they too close to us in time and distance (and thrashed us on corrected time), but they were actually making better progress to windward than what we were. I did a few quick mental calculations and tipped them to take 2nd place overall behind Vulcan – the latter which had done everything right and finished the entire race in 2 hrs 20 mins. I was right.

Cruising downwind in 30 knots of breeze at an average speed of 15 knots.

By the time, we got back to moorings, we were all bushed. That was one, tough race going through every possible wind strength and several directions and a whole gamut of emotions, of being very well placed at the half way point, to lying becalmed for long periods of time. That is the sport of sailing and exactly where the expression comes from: “It's not plain sailing!”

Harken laid on some tasty grub and plenty of free drinks. They got on promptly with the prize giving and everyone was happy.

Our man of the match goes to PETER BAM.

A big thank you to Harken for all the freebees and great prizes.


Rank Boat Class SailNo HelmName TCF Finish Elapsed Corrected Points
1 Vulcan GP 42 ESP8900 Hylton Hale 1.335 14:25:21 03:20:21 04:27:28 1
2 Hors d'Oeuvre L26 44 Peter Bam 0.955 15:45:29 04:40:29 04:27:52 2
3 Always Well First Class 7.5 SA3141 Ralf Thomas 1.040 15:34:49 04:29:49 04:40:37 3
4 Alliance Francaise A 35 Archambault FRA 34635 Alexandre Monat 1.100 15:21:16 04:16:16 04:41:54 4
5 Tenacity J111 SA 4242 Errol Stern 1.175 15:08:07 04:03:07 04:45:40 5
6 Hill Billy J27 SA198 Peter Hill 1.000 15:52:16 04:47:16 04:47:16 6
7 Pants on Fire J105 SA 3786 Dwayne Assis 1.080 15:31:47 04:26:47 04:48:08 7
8 Necessity Beneteau 34.7 SA4114 David Booth 1.050 15:39:53 04:34:53 04:48:38 8
9 Yolo Sun Fast 3200 SA6130 Dale Kushner 1.070 15:35:40 04:30:40 04:49:37 9
10 Just Fun Mount Gay 30 SA1796 B Preston 1.080 15:39:50 04:34:50 04:56:49 10
11 Windpower Landmark 43 SA 4343 Rick Nankin/Phil Gutsche 1.250 15:02:54 03:57:54 04:57:23 11
12 A-L Farr 38 SA630 Robbie Van Rooyen 1.090 15:39:17 04:34:17 04:58:58 12
13 Regent Express Pacer 27 17 Trygve Roberts 1.090 15:45:20 04:40:20 05:05:34 13
14 Naledi J120 SA2773 Felix Scheider-Bischen 1.150 15:33:50 04:28:50 05:09:10 14
15 Majimoto II Farr 40 SA785 Paul Mare 1.130 15:43:21 04:38:21 05:14:32 15
16 Thunderchild L 52 SA1027 Rhett Goldswain 1.280 15:17:33 04:12:33 05:23:16 16
17 Silky Windsong 37 Mrk 2 SA 4339 Joe van der Westhuizen 1.250 DNF
18 Pimento Holiday 23 H32 Neil Lavin 0.850 DNF
19 Touch N Go Lightwave 395 SA1178 David Smith 1.080 DNF
20 Spirit of Victory Astove 30 SA 2134 John Waller 0.890 DNC
21 Kestral SA3101 C Jackson 0.950 DNF
22 Ambre SA74 Larry Davies 0.870 DNF
23 Cardiac Arrest Windsong 37 SA4337 Nigel Clack 1.250 DNF
24 Eko Energy J22 Rodney Tanner 0.940 DNF
25 Cloud 9 Stadt 34 SA1535 J Little 0.965 DNC
26 Cathy R Compass 47 SA1146 Johan Rabie 1.020 DNF
27 ME 2 ME Farr 38 SA898 Derek Shuttleworth 1.080 DNC
28 Aurora Atlantic 49 SA978 Mel Hawtrey 1.085 DNF
29 Maestro Fast 42 SA3444 Paul van ass/Anki Roux 1.160 DNF
30 Carousel Beneteau Oceanis 390 SA1011 Luke Scott 0.980 DNF
31 FTI FLyer Charger 33 SA702 Keith Mattison 0.990 DNF
32 Lapwing L34 10 Jennifer Burger/Alan Keen 1.015 DNF
33 Celine IV Comfortina 39 SA3740 Volker Vierhaus 1.045 DNF
34 Ava Muira SA818 Ken Botwood 0.910 DNF
35 Paprika Peterssen 33 SA399 Howard Minnie 0.935 DNC
36 Sizwe Miura SA1235 Hennie Mclachlan 0.935 DNF
37 Saiorse Atlantis 36 SA2360 Tony Blackwell 0.965 DNF