Intrepid sailing journalist Brandon 'Bardy' Clarke shares another tale from an RPNYC offshore race.
Twice now I have sailed to Port Underpants, and twice the leg from Wellington Port Underpants has been gang busters, but the leg from Port Underpants to The Brothers has been an exercise in frustration trapped in a convergence zone between a Southerly behind us and Northerly in front of us. I don't like legs from port Underpants to The Brothers!
But - a race around the Chetwodes had been on my 'Most Wanted' list ever since I moved to Wellington, and it's finally been ticked off. It was definitely worth the wait!
We met at the boat on Friday night to prep. Not at the usual marina berth, because the boat was tied up alongside Duffy's Rigging where it had its rig out and serviced recently. Gordy and his team had been working away to get the Good Ship Nedax Racing ready for the weekend. By Friday night it was looking like she'd be ready. Just. Gordy was up the rig, and various Matty's were still working away when I got there just after 5pm, and the odd rogue Ben was spotted too. Also present were Craig, George, Bonk and Max and Fanny, a couple from France who had signed on to do their first (and second) Cook Strait crossing with us.
By the time I checked out most of the jobs were either done, or scheduled to be done. The instructions were to meet back at the boat, preferably with wool, at 0700 to finish getting the boat ready for the 0900 start.
So my alarm awoke me at the very deconvenient hour of Saturday 0600, and Lise dragged herself up and down to the car to drop me off, via Aro Bakery, at the boat for the race. ;o)
Once again I arrived to find Gordy up the rig. I wondered if he had slept up there. Sails were everywhere. Literally.
I started working with George to fill Nedax with the Offshore Main, the Super Xero, the Code Zero and the Fractional Zero, the A2+, A3, brand new and on debut A4, A5 and A6, Superlicious, #1 Medium, #2, #3, and the #4. Max commented that it seemed like a lot of sails to be taking for the race...
We then stowed people's bags, the life raft, the chilly bin, everyone's food, the water bottles, and the extra water, the extra petrol and the tool box, extra electrical tape, extra ropes and rags... oh and the brand new "extra padding" seat for the naviguesser's seat.
Craig just finished taping up the new foil attachment. There was some banter that he should have wound the tape around the foil clockwise, and not anti-clockwise, but he assured us there was a clockwise layer underneath, so both options were catered for.
We were almost ready to go. So we got Gordy down from up the rig, set the furled A3 up on the extended prod...
...and then set off for the start area...
Craig email the day before had read:
Course for tomorrow
Forecast has eased in general with the sthly tending west early than
yesterdays forecast so some light air work to be done
Turning North around midnight but light ( code zero from chetwodes to Mana?)
then 9-10 knots northly down the coast to Terawhiti. Morning breeze of 10-15
from NE finish in wellington harbour in about 10 knots NW at 1111 hrs
Just the one portage this time but its over cape lambert 10 oclock at night
And this was accompanied by the following prediction map from the oracle Expedition:
I was relatively pleased with the prospect of just the single portage over Cape Lambert. The terrain there seemed much less intimidating than the last portage from Ohau to Cable Bay.
So, the prospect was a quick reach to Halswell, then a beat out of the harbour against an incoming tide, and then once clear of Barret's Reef the wind gradually clocking astern on the leg over to Port Underpants.
Off the start line we unfurled the A3 as the gun went. Gordy was really amped up for this race:
And by the time the wind went squirelly at the Eastern end of Oriental Bay we were ever so slightly ahead of Wedgetail (albeit briefly):
The wind went forward as we entered Evans Bay, and the first of many many sail changes, from the A3 to the Medium #1 Jib followed. At Point Halswell we caught Montego Bay III. Simon and Matt B. were in good spirits as the set off on their 160 nm 2 handed qualifier for the Central Triangle, and offered to cook some bacon and eggs for us if wanted to hang around...
As the Arahura was seen coming in Wedgetail and Revs were already trying to find the light spots for us to try and avoid:
Fanny was loving her first sail out of Wellington Harbour:
As was Max:
We hugged the coast of the Mirimar Penninsula as much as we could to keep out of the tide, and thought we did quite a good job of hanging on to the larger Revs and Wedgetail out to Steeple Rock. Although perhaps not quite as well as the H28, which was only now being overhauled by them:
Morale rose as the first group of Natural Confectionery Company snakes appeared, and then there was some amusement as we sailed inside Steeple light. Bonk was mildly concerned about how much water we had on our chosen line. Craig observed that SURELY it was going to be okay, because Clear Vision had set up slightly to windward of us on our hip... if the Rock Monitor was happy with their projected course inside of us he reasoned we must be okay.
The Rock Monitor alert level would surely have been at least in the Amber zone at Barret's Reef. With a larger Southerly swell rolling in there was some spectacular white water action as ourselves, Wedgetail and Revs made our way out past the reef.
We had chosen to go out through Chaffer's Passage, leaving the reef to our East, while the other boats went the other side...
As we left Moaning Mini behind us Clear Vision was the fourth boat out of the harbour, and we settled in for the 32 mile leg to Port Underpants under fine blue skies.
With Clear Vision under gennaker just behind us. As the wind slowly backed to the East, as forecast in Craig's pre-race email, we changed gears from Medium #1, to Code Zero, to Superlicious to Super Xero to Superlicious and finally to the A2+ for an extended run.
The weather in Marlborough was not looking that inviting but we had a good run down to Port Underpants nevertheless.
The only negative was the very sizable Southerly Swells - around 4 metres, the larger ones of which towered above the deck as they reared up threatening to break, but never quite doing so. This one was captured as Max photographed his first encounter with an Albatross:
The swells made steering and trimming very challenging, as the wind direction and strength varied hugely in the troughs and on the tops of the swells. BIG grinds in on the sheet to keep it from collapsing just after the peaks were immediately followed by emergency dumps of several metres of sheet to keep the boat on it's feet as we accelerated away into the next trough.
Actually, that was not the ONLY negative.
The mast chocks popped out from under the mast. That was a significant negative... we briefly discussed pulling out to save the rig, but Gordy and Craig managed to get the chocks back in and tape them into place. That was the good news. The bad news was that there was now black sikaflex on pretty much everything downstairs. Including on the tails of the halyards and keyboard ropes. On the upside Bonk had brought a bottle of kerosene, which Craig then heroically spent an hour using to clean up the mess. He wasn't exactly healthy looking when he emerged, and his wet weather gear now have artistic black smudges all over them... but the sikaflex was tidied up. Not an ideal development, but we were still in the race.
George pulled out individually packaged servings of the now famous George Pie, and this was augmented with excellent ham, cheese and salad sandwiches from Fanny and Max. George followed up the George Pie splendour with his secret recipe Tiffin. It is like a quadruple heart by-pass in a desert. I think it was a quadruple chocolate brownie, with extra chocolate and extra sticky golden syrup and extra chocolate and extra chewy sweet fillings. George said the recipe started with a kilogram of butter, to which you add an entire tin of golden syrup...
...Morale was high. As we counted off the miles to Port Underpants...
...the first shifts of sleep were taken in preparation for the long night ahead. Bonk needed a lie down while his metabolism struggled to process George's Tiffin.
In front of us Wedgetail and then Revs both gybed onto starboard to head into the gate at Port Underpants. The wind was knocking us slightly so we gybed early taking a line inside the two boats in front of us.
There was time for some photography, and Max headed up onto the foredeck:
The sea state was MUCH more pleasant on the starboard gybe, and at times we ran down waves and dipped the tip of the prod into the back of the wave in front of us...
As we headed into Port Underpants we got some good shots of Wedgetail and Revs starting the leg north to The Brothers.
After passing through the gate we dropped the A2+ and rounded up under medium #1. It was dead maggot to The Brothers, against adverse tide. Excellent. Morale dipped slightly, but rebounded with more snakes and it was not like the scenery was that hard to put up with:
Half way to The Brothers the wind frumped out. Morale was low as the speedo read all zeros:
Morale was lower still when we saw The Guarantee and Clear Vision closing in from behind under kites in a Southerly. The Nowcasting was reporting an 18 knot northerly at the Brothers, so we seemed to have parked in the convergence zone... with several knots of tide pushing us southwards. Even Snakes didn't seem to help the situation.
Sleep was impossible too - the left over swell meant the boat was rocking violently from side to side. The runners where banging on the boom, the Super Xero was setting and then flapping inwards and hitting the crew on the leeward rail in the face. We were going nowhere, quickly.
In the late afternoon we finally broke through into the North Westerly. We even managed a smile:
I Peter Williamsed it but saying: "Finally - we are away!" I immediately thought of Smithy as I said this, and he was right... after 10 minutes of 6 and 7 knot progress...
... the wind once again frumped out, and Nedax Racing was again becalmed... and Clear Vision, The Guarantee and Montego Bay III were all looming up behind us under kites in a Southerly again.
Two more hours of frustration followed. Morale was low.
But all was not lost. The breeze from the south built allowing us to change to the A2+ for a while, before frumping out again! Eventually, under Super Xero and full main we managed to eek out a few miles towards Tory Channel entrance where a gaggle of ferries broke up the boredom:
A couple of VERY wide angle gybes and an extended tactical debate about the relative merits of sailing close to Arapawa Island and inside The Brothers (less distance, more tidal flow, but with it flowing from West to East, compared to the other option of heading towards Cape Terawhiti out into the middle of the Strait - longer distance, away from where we wanted to be heading, less tidal flow, but with what there was (2.5 knots) flowing North to South i.e. directly against us.
Craig had been studying what expedition was saying...
... Craig laid out the options... his preferred option was we take the inside course, but keep plenty of breeze and therefore get beyond the Brothers earlier. We all agreed the risk of the inside course was that the wind would be too light in near the high cliffs of Arapawa Island to make any progress against the strong tidal stream. This was deemed too much of a risk... So Bonk called for a gybe to head out East. "Wait a minute!" Craig said - "I didn't say I was in favour of that..."
"Okay - so we'll keep heading in towards Arapawa then..."
"No," Craig said, "The more we do that the more we are committing to the inside option... which is risky."
So we had the discussion again. We all agreed, the inside option was better, IF the wind held, which we didn't think ti was likely to do, so we should gybe...
"Right, prepare to gybe." Bonk called.
"I'm not advocating for this..." Craig said...
So we gybed, and it was a stellar move. We finally wriggled free of the convergence zone, and after a brief period hard on the wind under the Super Xero we furled the Super Zero in favour of the Medium #1 - we were off hard on the wind in the twilight.
Craig noted what an excellent call it was by the naviguesser to stay wide of Arapawa Island. A long long night beating to windward followed. As the sun dipped, so did morale. But it rose again as cranberry, cashew and almond scroggin appeared, augmented with second servings of George Pie, followed by a desert of mini chocolate cup cakes from Fanny and Max.
We tacked to try and lay through between Awash Rock and The Brothers and we somewhat pleased to note that the nav lights of The Guarantee, Clear Vision and Montego Bay III all looked to still be becalmed back near Tory Channel entrance. We avoided the planned Portage at Cape Lambert, only because the wind got lighter and lighter as we approached and we were forced back out to sea to find pressure. Max had an extended shift on the helm through the night and everyone else cycled through the bunks in an attempt to get short naps. Everyone that is except Bonk who laid claim to the port berth on top of the kites and enjoyed a much needed long sleep of several hours.
Dawn slowly broke, and morale was low. We had fallen into a hole just short of the Chetwodes, and gradually the sky lightened to reveal both The Guarantee and Clear Vision making steady progress towards us from astern. About 300 metres to the north of us there was a solid line of breeze and The Guarantee and Clear Vision were sailing along in that breeze. The breeze line was not getting any closer to us, and we had no way on, and no steerage, and therefore no way to get to the breeze. Over about an hour they got closer, and closer...
...and eventually passed us.
Eventually we got a sniff of breeze and the Super Xero came into it's own. The Guarantee and Clear Vision were doing around 2 knots, and Nedax leapt forward at 4.5 knots, and then 6 knots. The gap was closing rapidly. Morale soared. Then we fell into another hole, and they snuck away gradually.
We were tired. And grumpy.
But eventually we managed to get going again but were sailing away from the direction we needed to be going, but towards more breeze. We gambled on the breeze holding, and it did. We managed to sail around the other two boats but were then confronted with another large hole in the breeze in front of us. We gybed and headed towards the Chetwodes themselves ( a ) because there was still breeze that way and there was no breeze the other way, and ( b ) because it put us between The Guarantee and Clear Vision and the point that was the next mark.
There was a gentle gurgle of our wake out the back of the boat...
And with our small lead restored morale was once again high. Ducks feet were broken out to celebrate.
You couldn't complain about the scenery... this is why we love offshores... (well one of the reasons)
The wildlife was great too:
Later we saw a seal porposing along quite happily...
After sneaking around the Western end of the Chetwodes we crept away to a lead over The Guarantee and Clear Vision of over a mile. As the wind slowly died - first to 4 knots true, then three, then two, then one.., the Super Xero kept us moving while they struggled and parked up.
However the wind died completely and we were back to being becalmed. For three hours or so. Morale was low. Very very low. Even more ducks feet didn't help. Nor did coffee. Morale was SO low on Clear Vision that they pulled out and started the long motor home.
We held on, spun in complete circles on the tide, and tried to entertain ourselves. There was little else we could do. Boo boo will be pleased to know that at this point I pulled off a MUCH more successful moon fish than my White Island effort. It was bucket style in the cockpit, and Gordy suddenly found an excuse to check something out on the foredeck... Bonk commented that fans should be a compulsory item in each crew member's bag from now on, but no underpants were lost in the making of this part of the story.
After about another hour the Northerly FINALLY kicked in for good. We really were off this time, and it turned out to be one of the top ten highlights of my sailing life. We started under full main and Super Xero reaching at about 50 - 60 AWA in 10 knots of breeze. Nedax was positively skipping along and after so long becalmed morale was very high. Chicken rolls, sandwiches, more chocolate cake and More coffee was consumed, and we were heading almost due East at 10 - 12 knots.
The wind built steadily as we headed East, and eventually we furled the Super Xero as it was just too much horsepower, and was tipping the boat over. We changed gears to the A5 and a full main, and an emergency call went out to all the sleeping crew to get up on deck as we needed everyone on the rail. We were off like a scalded cat, pulling 14s and 15s steadily right on the ragged edge tight reaching with the leeward rail in the water and the leeward stanchions throwing up clouds of spray. Grins abounded.
Wide eyes abounded too on a fishing boat we flew past about 10 metres to leeward.
Eventually however we had to drop the A5 because we couldn't quite make the Northern end of Mana with it up. So we did the last 45 minutes two sailing under Medium #1 and full main. At the top of Mana the excitement really began.
Oh Lordy! We popped the brand new A4 that Booboo had told me about during the White Island race and what a MINT sail it turned out to be. On debut it went up, popped, set and the speedo began to scream. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17...
"I think be better set up for a gybe Bonk..."
"Get the heady off the foredeck first please"
16, 16, 17, 17...
"Ummm not sure we've got time for that, let's gybe..."
But the headsail was brought aft, then we gybed and BOOM-SHANKA we were off - destination Cape Terawhiti, and look out any one who was in the way!
15, 16, 17, 18, 19...
As we neared Point Ohau we saw the Terawhiti Rip was in "full noise mode". This was a concern. There was a solid wall of white water extending out about 4 miles. The tide was in full flow south to north running against what was now a 25 knot Northerly breeze.
We didn't fancy parking the bow into one of the rapids and having the top of the rig continue south at 20 knots, so the plan was hatched to be cautious, and drop the A4 before we got to the rapids.
Caution is good.
But then we spotted a section of the rip that looked relatively calm. How bad could it be we wondered...
...and after a small teaspoon of cement each we went for it. Good GRIEF!
18, 19, 20, 20.5, 21!!! 21.3, 21.4, 21.5... 16!!!!
Ooops - we slowed suddenly a few times as the prod dug into the face of some steep white water rapids... foam and spray and white water crashed over the foredeck, around the mast and into the cockpit. So far the mast chocks that had come loose on the way to Port Underpants were holding up. Which was reassuring.
We'd broken a stanchion on the port rail, so Bonk couldn't keep his balance by holding onto the life line, so he held onto my shoulder instead. There were a number of times when his grip got quite tight... and they seemed to coincide with when we launched straight through walls of white water...
Oh, earlier when I was talking about the scenery at the Chetwodes, I said: "this is why we love offshores", well, actually, THIS is why we love offshores! F*** YEAH!!!
There was hollering. There was whooping. There was sphinchter clenching too at times. And it went on and on and on and on. I'll never forget that ride.
Just as the prospect of having actually be cautious and drop the A4 before we got to the wind factory was being seriously debated, the leeward kite sheet exploded. Decision made for us.
We pulled the A4 down on the windward sheet around the forestay, and managed to break a batten in the #3 as we did so. We had a bit on at this stage I think it would be fair to say. We recovered and went to a #4 and a reefed main for the wind factory and the inevitable punches between Sinclair and Lyall Bay, but then shook out the reef and peeled back to the Medium #1 for the beat back up the harbour.
We were all pretty stuffed by the time we rounded Point Halswell...
And we finished (3rd over the line) just before 7 pm. Wedgetail and Revs had got through the tidal gate at The Brothers before the tide changed, so - game over. They beat us home by 7 hours (1 min 30 apart at the finish). Well done to them! And a big well done to Jeff and Phil (The Guarantee) and Simon and Matt B. (Montego Bay III) who completed the gruelling race two handed as their qualifier for the Central Triangle.
Thanks to the club and all the volunteers who allow such awesome experiences to happen. What a way to spend a weekend! And thanks to Max and Fanny for joining us (and letting me use some of the cool photos they took)