At the three-quarter mark of Fremantle Sailing Club’s 75nm Westender Ocean Race, Optimus Prime skipper Trevor Taylor was optimistic of his yacht’s chances of grabbing a surprise victory in the prestigious Siska Trophy, awarded to the overall winner of the seven race Blue Water Ocean Racing Series.
The seasoned Taylor and his wily crew knew that to bridge the points difference to series leader Tony Mitchell’s Sled, their luxurious Marten 49 needed to finish high in the fleet, with Sled a number of places further back. Alternatively, if both yachts finished poorly, Optimus Prime would be favoured, as its results in the first six races of the series had been more consistent.
As the yachts rounded the Hillarys FAD in the late afternoon and turned for the 25 mile leg to the Fairway Landfall Buoy, Plan A was looking shaky. Optimus Prime was leading the fleet from Phil Childs’ Knee Deep, under the command of veteran sailmaker Steve Hartley, with John Moore’s Charlotte third. But Sled was less a mile behind, and close enough to be ahead on handicap. Frank Saraceni’s Al Fresco, with Kingsley Piesse calling the shots, and near-sistership General Lee, skippered by Paul Eldrid, were next, locked together in an intriguing battle, and also close enough to the leaders to challenge on handicap.
The slower 36 to 40-footers were out of sight, battling the two knot adverse Leeuwin Current as they crossed the Rottnest Trench.
As the sun set and the yachts sailed under spinnakers in a glorious balmy ten knot west-sou’wester, Knee Deep slipped through to the lead and Optimus Prime extended her lead on Charlotte and Sled. Al Fresco and General Lee continued their personal battle, sailing away on a long southerly gybe at the hot angle that these yachts love. Taylor’s Plan A was looking better.
As the leading yachts passed the eastern end of Rottnest Island at about 8pm and closed on Fairway, the westerly breeze suddenly faded and died altogether. What followed was a tedious exercise in late night drifting, as tiny zephyrs from the east taunted the fleet but refused to establish themselves. A beautiful night- for fishing or water skiing. Knee Deep led the fleet around Fairway, the passing of which elicited much whooping & cheering from the starving crew. The five mile crawl to the finish line off South Mole proved to be more of the same.
'I looked at the instruments at midnight and there were five duck eggs', lamented Taylor after the race. 'Boat speed was reading 0.00 and wind speed 0.0'.
With Knee Deep and Optimus Prime staging a slow motion version of their traditional battle for line honours, a very welcome ten knot westerly finally arrived at 1am and powered the leading yachts down the final mile to the finish. But the new breeze had carried the smaller yachts up with it, and Sled crossed only 40 seconds behind Optimus Prime, which was five minutes astern of line honours victor Knee Deep.
Story with a twist – Trevor Taylor’s Optimus Prime shows that even the best don’t always get it perfect. - Bernie Kaaks - copyright Click Here to view large photo
With the smaller yachts in the fleet still on the course but closing fast, Taylor had to revert to Plan B, which required a bad result for Sled. The results confirmed a small boat race, with Lyn Powell & Ian Whitehead’s Fourth Dimension winning on IRC from Jon Hanson’s Wasabi and Bryan Thurston & Hamish Maddern’s This Way Up. The first three places were identical under the YAH performance-based handicap system.
Optimus Prime scored seventh on IRC and eighth on YAH, but Sled achieved sixth under both systems – not great, but good enough for the newly-modified Farr 47 to narrowly win the Siska Trophy for the overall Blue Water Champion for the 2010/11 season.
Sled’s owner-skipper Tony Mitchell paid tribute to yacht designer Hugh Welbourn and Evolution Sails WA loft owner Paul Eldrid for optimising the IMS-designed Sled’s keel design and sail plan to produce a faster yacht that rated lower under IRC. He also praised the support of his dedicated and race-hardened crew, many of whom have sailed together for many years on Tony’s previous yachts, the Inglis 47 Wild One and the IOR Farr 40 Prime Minister.
Vintage year – Phil Childs' & Frank van Ruth’s Farr 49 Knee Deep performed better with its new square-top mainsail. - Bernie Kaaks - copyright Click Here to view large photo