by Sven Pannell
12ft Skiff Interdominions, Day 5, Worser Bay, Wellington, NZ
New Zealand lead Australia by an unassailable margin heading into the final day of the 12' skiff Interdominions - 322 points to 189. But the individual fight will go down to the last race, in the series being sailed at Worser Bay, Wellington.
Another day of aggressive yachting across four gruelling races means five skippers are overnighting with a realistic shot at the title in the morning. It's on.
Alex Vallings (Auckland) is in pole position going into tomorrow's final two races. It has been a few too many years since his name was etched into the silverware; something he will be very keen to rectify. After 8 races, he is a slender 2 points clear of Glen Armstrong (Wellington) and Russell Davis (Auckland), both tied for second place. Neither of these two sailors has ever won an Interdominions before, and both will be intent on fulfilling long-held dreams on the water tomorrow.
5 points further behind and still in with a good shot at glory are Auckland's Chris Reid and Sydney's Nick Press … the only Australian in the top 8 at this late stage in the regatta. All four Kiwi sailors will be looking to unseat their Trans-Tasman rival, Press, and halt his march to an unprecedented fifth consecutive individual title in the world's premiere 12' skiff event.
Tucked in behind these front runners comes 'Sharkskin' campaigned by Shaun Sheldrake and Darryl Wislang. In a class that attracts great sailors seeking an adrenaline hit like no other, Wellingtonian Wislang is returning to his local harbour and sending it in the 12s after circumnavigating in the Volvo Ocean Race aboard Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand.
The wind returned from the north and streaked across the harbour in the morning with a few white caps indicating that it was time for second rigs across the fleet. The Race Officer and both team captains agreed to a rule change allowing four races today, to catch up on a total of three days of no racing due to excessive wind.
The start box for Race 5 was hectic. On the gun, Vallings flopped his rig onto Tank Girl, who in turn fouled the vibrant orange 'May Contain Traces of Nuts'. But it was to be a rags to riches tale for Vallings who, after 'a shocker' would find speed that no one else could with the second rig, pass every other boat in the fleet and bring home the victory.
Race 6 saw local heavy-weather expert Glen Armstrong take the single point, in his second ever Inters heat win. There were big winners and big losers in the middle of the fleet, with the seaweed strewn across the course like semi-submerged depth chargers waiting to strike. Just as your mother always told you, 'weed really does slow you down'. This author, crewing Skiff.org.nz, found himself halfway through a pitchpole after a hard send to cross the finish line turned into a sudden stop thanks to the floating flora clothes-lining the centreboard.
In fact, the finish line seemed to be the place to flop, with huge points gained and lost in the last few metres all day long. Perhaps none more so than Matt Stevens of Full Metal Jacket racing and crew Emma Berry, taking a break from her Olympic campaign to enjoy the thrill of the 12. More than once they drifted past the final line after a last gybe didn't stick. But overall, these sailors have shown consistent improvement in the middle of the fleet as the regatta wears on.
After a short break for lunch, the twiddling of thumbs on rig choice turned to chaos. The herd was spooked when locals changed to third rigs, with just 30 minutes before the gun for Race 7. A scramble to change rigs saw many arriving into the box with seconds to spare, and already exhausted. A few were caught out, including leader Davis, who made the call to head to shore direct from the top mark and reduce the square meterage aloft. Vallings took the bullet in Race 7, and left himself in the commanding position.
A big call, but Davis' decision to change down a gear paid off and left him with a chance at the title. He discarded the DNF and came home first in the day's final Race 8. Crews were blistered, bruised and burnt out and as if to rub salt into the wounds, the wind kicked in hard again, with high twenties measured and plenty well overpowered even in their third gear. A three boat pile-up in the bear away saw the Lost Boys ride up the stern of Skiff.org.nz and Liquid turnover on top of them. All were lucky to avoid major breakage, in the tangle of prods, stays, rigs, kites, ropes and … hopes of beating each other in the hotly contested battle outside the Top 10.
Four crew-busting races later, plenty will be looking forward to the end of the regatta. Perhaps none more so than Chris Reid's crew, Andrew Clarke, who in addition to his regular duties downwind was spotted doing some work in the upper part of the rig in the middle of a send. Fancy footwork required to stay up there, free a stray trapeze line and carry on racing. Have to say, never seen that before!
The regatta that has had a bit of everything is looking like it is going to see a bit of 'Big Rig' action tomorrow, bringing yet another test to decide who sails the fastest 12 foot skiff in the world. Well, in New Zealand and Australia … but hey, that is the world of 12s!
Click here for results to Race 8
Background to the Regatta: The 12‘ Skiff Interdominions have been held between New Zealand and Australian teams since 1956. The 54th regatta is being hosted by Worser Bay Boating Club in Wellington, NZ from fourth to 11th January, 2014. Excellent sheltered viewing of all the action is available each day at the yacht club.