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Melbourne to Osaka Double-Handed Yacht Race - A tough slog

by Robyn Brooke on 30 Mar 2013
Cadibarra and Optimus Prime Sally Williams
All yachts are now underway in the Melbourne to Osaka yacht race following the start of the Open 66 Gusto, in the early hours of Thursday 28 March. In this tough endurance race, it is not unusual to encounter one of Australia’s east coast lows before reaching the longed-for trade winds but this year has been a tough slog in strong and prolonged headwinds which has ‘knocked the sails’ out of some of the competitors.

The mid fleet are now licking their wounds and assessing the damage as they start to enjoy a stable platform and more favourable winds. A distance of 5,500 nm, this is the longest race from Australia which leaves Melbourne in autumn, sailing across the equatorial summer and arriving in Osaka for the cherry blossoms in spring.

An innovation for this the ninth Melbourne to Osaka race, is introducing the stern-chaser staggered start, which has proved to be very popular with competitors and supporters by bringing the fleet closer as they approach the finish line. This is also the first time the results will be measured on handicap performances rather than classing boats by their length alone, already providing much interest and speculation for spectators.

It has been a fast and furious Bass Strait downhill sprint for most of the fleet to get them underway but an unplanned delayed start for Turbulence put her on day three in the path of the massive northerly front which ripped through Victoria last week. It is testimony to the calibre of this fleet of sailors and their boat preparation, that they are all still standing at this stage of the race.

Already over 300 miles ahead of her nearest competitor, Robert Bradley and Joey Gough who started their race with the first group on 17 March in their 38 Farr design Escapade, took a slingshot early from Gabo to search for a reverse current off the east coast. They were hampered by strong northerlies and hammered it out against wind and tide for close to seven days until their strategy was rewarded. They have been luckier than some but don’t try to tell them that, it was tough.

Similarly, our Japanese friends Masa and Yasu, in their JS40 Southern Cross, sailed well east in search of the slingshot north and at their Eureka moment, as the trades dominated and the current turned north their steering system failed them. They turned back to the coast and arrived in Brisbane port on Good Friday to repair the damage. Southern Cross quickly fixed its steering problems but then found it could not get engine started. The crew are hoping to get this fixed today and then leave Brisbane.

Unlike previous years, there will be a time penalty for boats requiring outside assistance and the judges are already discussing if, when and how that might be levied. Another casualty requiring shelter has been the Marten 49 Optimus Prime, sailed by father and son team Trevor and Dan Taylor from WA who pulled their forestay out of the deck in the strong northerly conditions off the south east coast. They had also gone hunting for the northerly current and although there was a shorter distance to travel back to Two-fold Bay it would nonetheless have been a very difficult trip, nursing their rig through every wave. After waiting a few hours for the southerly, they left Eden to motor to Sydney for replacement parts. We wish them well and hope they are able to resume their race shortly.

The rest of the fleet have chosen to stay on the coast. Spirit of Downunder father and son team Laurie and Tim Ford decided yesterday they needed to protect against damage from the constant slamming and chose to forgo some speed by reducing sails. Laurie understands the endurance factor. A fit 75 year old, he raced to Osaka for the first time 14 years ago in Spirit. This morning they were rewarded with a welcome southerly, an egg and bacon breakfast and packages from home. Tim and Laurie are hopeful that their fourth attempt to secure the auto pilot to the quadrant will hold.

Early damage reported by seasoned Osaka campaigner Tony Warren, sailing with Andy Hibbert on Kiss Goodbye to MS, included a destroyed spinnaker, broken HF aerial, loss of instruments and a smashed pole traveller which speared the lower section of the main. They recovered from a knock down to later run on the back of a wave into a pitch at 14 knots which brought them almost to a standstill. Happily they are shaken but not stirred to seek shelter to repair the damage at this stage as they are currently leading in both IRC and AMS divisions.

At the moment they are trying to stick with Samurai Jack who has emerged from the maelstrom intact, with Michael Lazzarini and Ryan in great spirits. The SJ boys seem to have just shaken themselves off and are enjoying the familiar warmth of their homeland, peeling off the layers of clothing and keeping Kiss Goodbye behind them. They are enjoying taking their girl north.

Funnel Web, Ivan MacFadyen’s Hick designed Open 50 also enjoyed the brisk broad reaching conditions along the south coast until a cell caught up with the fleet. It took 30 minutes for Ivan and co-skipper Will Parbury to retrieve the shredded spinnaker from under the boat.

For Gusto, slogging upwind was perhaps not the best point of sail for the boat, and just before the southerly reached them, their tuffluff was torn out. They intend to organise a replacement and take the penalty.

Wasabi, with Bruce Mackay and his co-skipper John Ryan have been sailing stealthily along the shore, close enough to count the wheel nuts on the trailers at times. No damage reported and the welcome southerly, their better point of sail, sees them resting up and regrouping.

Cadibarra 8, Paul Roberts and Martin Vaughan, headed off the coast north of Ulladulla and have had a difficult passage with the continual headwind and adverse current. The continual slamming off waves makes sleeping difficult and Martin received a bad rope burn dropping the spinnaker in the Bass Strait squall. They will surely welcome the opportunity to rest and heal in the good weather and calming conditions however they are at the top of the low pressure system with wind strengthening from behind and a sharp curve Melbourne Osaka website

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