Like many of you, at the beginning of each new year I set myself goals for the year. This year my list included learn to speak French, rid the world of poverty, clean out the garage, cure cancer, not put any more dents in my van and win the Brisbane to Keppel yacht race. And as of last Monday I can tick off one of these. No my French is still limited to ordering a beer and swearing, the van has a new scratch in the tail gate, I still can’t get into the garage and Kevin Rudd will cure world poverty and cancer in the next few weeks.
But the Southern Cross Yachting team did win the Keppel race! Yes folks after a third place three years ago and second last year, we stood on the top step of the podium as we took out PHS over all.
A record 29 yachts faced the starter in the seventh edition of the great race; with Wild Oats 11 a last minute withdrawal (clearly they had heard of our pre-race form and pulled out to avoid a thrashing).
As always the start was a drifter and as soon as we crossed the line we went right out into the bay looking for the promised north-easter. With only the J133 ‘Patriot’ for company we split from the rest of the fleet and took a flyer. Over the next 45 minutes it became pretty lonely with us two yachts going east whilst the rest of the fleet continued northwest. Then the breeze went north-west and we tacked leaving us in equal last place overall on the water. Not an auspicious start.
But as the afternoon wore on ‘Oceans’ light weather speed coupled with simply brilliant tactics saw us work our way back through the fleet and by late afternoon we were mid-fleet and in second place on handicap. As we cleared the bay around 2030 that night we were in great shape on the water and in first place on handicap a lead we then held for the rest of the race. Conditions could not have been better as we were hard on the wind all night in a slight swell and light nor’easter. Dawn saw us 55 miles from Indian Head with all of our enemies behind us. We kept the boat moving all day through a session of sail changes light number one, jib top, asymmetrical spinnaker, then back through them all again.
We passed Sandy Cape at sunset as the wind headed us and we began a long tacking duel along Breaksea Spit with ‘Carbon Credits’, ’Sweethart’ and ‘Not a Diamond.’ Shortly after rounding the Breaksea Spit light we passed Carbon Credits and we had the class leaders in sight three miles ahead. We began the long beat across the paddock, heading west towards Gladstone waiting for the wind to go west in the early morning. At about 3am we felt the wind heading us and we tacked, slightly ahead of Carbon Credits and Georgia Express. The long drag race to the finish began. Another exhausting day of sail changes kept the crew busy all throughout the day. (Nothing like winning to keep you focused!) We passed Cape Capricorn at sunset and radioed our estimated ETA to the finish as 1944.
The northwester settled in at fifteen knots and we were blast reaching along at nine knots towards the finish line chasing Georgia and Carbon Credits that had snuck past us just before the Cape.
The crew were highly motivated to keep trimming and our longer water line slowly got us past Georgia, but the much larger Carbon Credits was not getting any smaller in front of us but not getting any bigger either!
The last hour was nerve wracking as I kept checking the tracker and recalculating the handicaps.
10 miles from the finished I realised we could not be beaten unless the mast fell down but none of us wanted to jinx ourselves by talking about winning just yet. At 1942 we crossed the finish line two minutes ahead of Georgia to take out PHS over all, PHS Div II, the navigators prize (closest finish time to the ETA from the Cape we were one and a half minutes out!)
We tied up in Keppel Bay Marina to a huge reception and the party began. Presentation was at 930 the next morning and the Commodore held his breath as I stepped up to receive my trophy from the Governor. I managed to shake her hand twice without saying anything inappropriate – much to relief of the Commodore.
A huge congratulations to the crew Ben, John, Warwick, Mark, Tom, Peter and Andrew. Well done guys in our 19 year old boat with its 12 year old sails we had beaten many brand new professionally sailed boats something I spent plenty of time reminding the owners of at the post race celebrations.
Congratulations to the crews of Wild Thing (Line Honours), Blunderbuss (IRC overall and DivII) and Ragtime (second IRC and third ORCI) and of course the sponsors, volunteers and staff that made the race possible.
This magnificent victory by Southern Cross is of course not without controversy. As the Chairman of both the Sailing Committee and the Race Committee, there have been unfair and untrue allegations that I may have ‘fixed’ the handicaps. Nothing could be further from the truth, but my arguments fell on deaf ears after a short humorous (well I thought so!) video about PHS Handicaps that I made for end of season’s presentations. You see skippers constantly complain that the handicaps are wrong and this video was made to explain how the handicaps are worked out. It has come back to bite me. Big time. Here is the link to the video. You can make you own mind up.
To celebrate this magnificent win we are sailing a victory lap over the same course to Keppel and then on to the Whitsundays departing on Tuesday 3rd September 2013. And we still have one place left.
This seven day trip is ideal for those looking for offshore experience or completing skippered passages for their yachtmaster exam.
So that’s all for this edition, I am still waiting for one of the America’s Cup syndicates to call offering me a skipper’s role so if you don’t hear from me for a while you will know where I am. And if you see ‘Oceans’ on the way to the Whitsundays, drop by for a drink. We have got plenty of cups now.
Until next time sail safe