by Luke Scott
Foggy overcast conditions greeted a fleet of 42 yachts before the start of the biannual Round Robben Island Race with Harken. The impressive middle distance fleet comprised of 22 Division 1 yachts, 8 Division 2 yachts, and 12 Division 3 yachts.
At one point, about 30 minutes before the 11am all class start, the bridge had a firm contingency in place to delay the start, since apparently there was extremely poor visibility from the bridge hut (even of buoy #10); and the bay, channel and harbour were very active with shipping. Fortunately, from that stage on, the mist melted away underneath a wonderful, benign and warm day, with a variable wind of say 8-14 knots, mostly north of west, kindly powering the fleet.
The first start was unfortunately a general recall, with many yachts over the line on the “on course side” before the start signal. The bridge officer then brought the “I”-Flag rule into play for the second start – meaning that any yacht over the line in the last minute before this start would be required to clear an extension of the start line beyond #10 before rounding back behind the line to start properly – a very costly mistake to make especially if you get boxed in or are closer to the bridge hut.
From the second start, it was interesting to see what strategy paid off, and it seems that those who worked the starboard-tack for height sooner, and for longer, hooked into a fresher breeze more or less on the lay line to the island, than those who stayed lower by opting to do the distance tack first. Other than the choice of when to gain your height, it was a predominantly long-port tack beating leg to the island. The only other decision that came into play on this leg was whether to leave the island to port or starboard.
Of the 42 yachts competing on the day, only 2 chose the latter: Spirit of Charlotte (div 3) and First 40 (div 1). In the case of the new Beneteau First 40, it did not seem to hurt them, and it would be interesting to see what might have been if they had not hooked some kelp. Kelp was quite a factor on the day, and a number of yachts ruined their chances with the dreaded kelp handbrake. Unfortunately for one yacht, the beautiful Cape Fling, they suffered an even bigger handbrake when their rig came down on the east side of Robben Island, off Murray Harbour. Thankfully, all was safe aboard, and they recovered the rig and sails before retuning under power.
They will be working hard towards a speedy return to racing. So the nice thing with a west or north west breeze in this race, is that after the half way mark, it’s all reaching and downwind. Happy days for all…
Yachts investigated different options and lines coming back…the asymmetric kites seemed to stay high to pump out their best speed and angle for their specific best VMGs, while some symmetrical kites followed them and others sailed low as possible to keep a decent speed in a variable light wind, that built as the day progressed. There were a couple of holes to navigate, but the wind was gently increasing into the mid afternoon. A happy consequence of the good building breeze was that all yachts that started, other than the rig casualty, finished. In the past, it has often been the case (especially in the pumping south easter) that some yachts, especially the division 3 yachts, struggle more than the bigger yachts when they come to the parking lot in the big wind shadow on the other side (and to the west) of the island, while they then get hammered beating back into the stiff and building afternoon breeze. Stuck between a rock and a hard place.
There were a lot of happy and some sunburnt faces enjoying a complimentary drink from the sponsor, before a prizegiving slightly earlier than usual, followed by platters of light snacks and appetizers, and lots to chat about. The sailing academy was out in force, and not just on their 3 yachts in the L26 fleet, but also providing crew for a number of other yachts. One of the Academy yachts managed a second place. Also good to have a high school team competing too. We have not had 41 finishers in this race for quite a while, and that is with a number of yachts missing on account of their Rio Race commitments. Very positive stuff.
Another great day on the water, with a good turnout, and a positive showcase for the club and it’s sailing academy. The combined score of this race and the last race around Robben Island on 19 October 2013, count towards the club championships.
Well done to all finishers, and a big thank you to the bridge team. From all sailors, thank you Harken for sponsoring sailing at our club, and especially the Round Robben Island Races: the drink, the food and the wonderful prizes.