One of the features of the 2008 HSBC Premier Coastal Classic was the performance of two small multihulls, Hooters and PredictWind.com, formerly Need for Speed.
PredictWind led the opening stages of the race and was first to Flat Rock (off Kawau Island, 26nm from Auckland). Hooters led the fleet at the next waypoint off Sail Rock , before Whangarei. Then PredictWind took over the two boat battle being third at Cape Brett, with Hooters fourth. On the final stetch to Russell, PreductWind lost one place to finish fifth yacht home, while Hooters was eighth.
Sail-World spoke to Jon Bilger of PredictWind.Com, after the finish.
'We had varied wind strength most of the way', said Bilger. 'It was about 20kts at the start, increasing to 25kts, then it dropped to around 15kts past Kawau, before building to 30kts north of Whangarei, with a big two metre swell. It was pretty nasty there.'
'Off Whangarei Heads, the winds were lighter for a time and more northerly, and it was hard for us to hold onto the 50fters.
'Then at Cape Brett, the wind swung to the northwest and died off a little and we couldn’t get the boat going, so we started dropping some of the bigger yachts at that point.'
Bilger is one of New Zealand’s top sailors, having won the Tanner and Tauranga Cup double, before moving into the forward hand position and representing New Zealand at Youth Worlds and the Barcelona Olympics in the 470 class. The family pedigree isn’t too bad either with father Jock, being a national champion in several classes, and a double Olympian in the Flying Dutchman class.
Both have a reputation as being very canny sailors.
The younger Bilger moved into the weather prediction business, working for Team Alinghi in their winning America’s Cup campaigns in 2003 and 2007. Since Valencia, Jon Bilger has developed a commercial weather prediction system, which runs on laptop using US and North American weather feeds.
Sold under the name of PredictWind.Com?nid=50197
, the application is a subscription one, but available for a free trial until January 2009. Bilger reports a big take up of the offer, and is confident of holding subscribers after the free period expires.
PredictWind, the yacht, is a 8.2metre, 27ft in the imperial system, an Ian Farrier design, with a beam of 6metres. Hooters is slightly longer fitting into the 8.5 metre division.
Bilger describes her as a family cruising boat. 'We’ll be cruising in the Bay of Islans for the next day or two. We promised the kids we would find some dolphins, then we will pack her on the trailer and drive home.'
PredictWind is one of two yachts to the Farrier design that were built, off the standard plans, in Nelson. Top 12fter sailor, Tim Bartlett owns the other. She is unmodified except for a new centreboard from Nick Olsen.
While Bilger may describe PredictWind as a family cruiser, there was nothing cruisey about their race north.
Finishing at 4.30am on Saturday morning, the crew of PredictWind were on deck for the whole 18.5hours of the race. 'We had four aboard instead of the usual three,' said Bilger.
She was no luxury liner in the catering division either.
'It was pretty wet,' Bilger recalled. 'We had bought plenty of foot to eat, but it was hopeless. Chicken rolls got saturated by waves after the first mouthful, if you were lucky. Sometimes they were sodden before you’d even got to that stage. All we really had to eat the whole race, were a chocolate bars and water.'
Bilger said that race rules prohibited the use of Predict?nid=50197
Wind.Com during the race, however they had a very good look at the system leading up to the start. 'We knew what was coming up, and what to expect in terms of wind speed and direction', he said.
'We knew we had to be at Cape Brett at a certain time before the wind swung, or we were in real trouble.'
As it was the wind did swing to the north west as they rounded Cape Brett, giving them a headwind for the whole 108nm course. The last stages of the race were sailed in 10kts of breeze which died at the finish
Bilger says the best speed they have achieved upwind for PredictWind is about 13kts in flat water. Speeds in the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic were largely determined by the sea conditions.
'We had a good ride to Flat Rock, and were surprised to be in the lead. Several 50fters had dropped out at that stage. When we got to Flat Rock we looked around and said 'Where is everyone?' After that Taeping got their gear issues sorted out and went past us. We managed to hold off the 50fters (and the 65ft Ragtime) until after dark.'
While others in the 230 strong race fleet will be looking long and hard at PredictWind.Com?nid=50197
for the ride home, with winds of 20-25kts from the SSW predicted for the start of the trip home on Sunday.
For Jon Bilger and his family, they have already folded away the laptop, will find some dolphins, fold up the yacht, then put PredictWind on the trailer and head back to Auckland.
PredictWind will definitely record the fastest time for the return journey!