Graeme Willcox reports
Today was the start of the finals series where the fleet has been split into the gold and silver fleets. We woke up to a rain shower which cleared by the time we headed down to the boat. The wind looked to be filling back in with a good 10 or so knots in the bay.
We headed out to the race course as the D flag (release signal) was given. We were on course B today which is the closer of the 2 courses. The RO’s plan was to race the silver fleets in the morning and then send the Gold fleets out in the afternoon after a predicted storm had blown through. We tried to get the race under way on time, but the wind was shifting right with each gust. Eventually after a short postponement we got the race under way 30 degrees further right than we had sailed out in.
We had a good start below the pack with a good lane to drive into. We held this lane heading towards the left and when the knock arrived we tacked out and made our way back towards the centre of the course. The guys on the right looked like they were starting to benefit from a right hand shift, we started to feel the knock, but made our way further into it to get the maximum benefit. We tacked back over to starboard just under lay line and then with the tidal help laid the mark.
A straight hoist in a low lane allowed us to gybe off when we wanted to and head down to the leeward gate. The wind had gone further right so we took the left hand mark and headed right to the newly laid weather mark. We made some good ground up the second beat capitalizing on some good shifts and keeping the boat going. We rounded the final weather mark in the top 10 and as we were on a big starboard lift going into the mark, the gybe-set was called. We had a bit of work to do with 2 boats inside of us, to get the gybe in, but we managed and we were off.
The majority of the fleet had gone with a straight hoist. With the wind switch the course was now quite biassed so a long port leg with the kite up was the key. As we went the wind built and the predicted storm was arriving. We rode the new headed wind down and all the boats who had straight set and carried on starboard were starting to battle to lay the finish. By now we were also not laying the line, but a third of the way down the wind went left again, but not enough for the leeward boats to lay with kites. So they had to drop and 2 sail into the line. We came barrelling in just above the lay-line and a short starboard leg saw us cross the line in first place!
Once we got the kite down the wind had really arrived. Not sure what it was blowing, but we were battling to keep the boat upright with the sails eased. After a while, it was apparent the squall was here to stay, so the RO raised the AP over H and sent us home.
This was where it got interesting. We had to run back home in very short steep chop and wind over 30 knots. We opted to drop our main and ride the storm in with only the jib. During the process of getting the main down a big gust hit us and we managed to get the mast in the mud. It is very shallow here, which is why the chop is so steep, we were lucky to save the mast, but broke our top spreader. Once I had rolled the main while in the water, we righted the boat and literally surfed home under jib. When we got back to the river mouth, the club rescue boat helped us get into the river and avoid the rocks on the leeward shore. We then quickly got the spare rig in the boat in preparation for the RO to send us out again. Just as we had the rig up the RO raised the AP of A and racing was cancelled for the day. There were many broken masts and spreaders once the fleet arrived back on shore, maybe even to the point where there were more broken boats than not. But I have not counted to be sure.
It was a long wet walk back to our accommodation, but now that I’ve had a warm shower, I have the time to write this report. We have 2 more days of racing to come, with potentially 4 races each day. SO there is still lots of regatta left.