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JJ Giltinan Championship: Welcome to the Doldrums - Day 4

by Richard Gladwell, 6 Mar 2019 19:23 PST 7 March 2019
Winning Group laeds Asko Appliances as Honda Marine comes into the top mark on day 4 of the 18ft Skiff JJ Giltinan Championship © Frank Quealey

Race 5 of the JJ Giltinan Championship asked plenty of questions of the 25 boat fleet - as they attempted to race with small rigs in winds that were described on the official results as "Variable approximately S".

Conditions were more akin to racing in the Doldrums in the Volvo Ocean Race - with dark skies, flat grey water and light winds punctuated by rain "squalls," or rather lines and patches of increased pressure to frustrate the crews.

Fresh southerly winds were forecast which had skiffie hearts aflutter in the boat park, with all opting for the small #2 rigs.

The race was another win for defending champion Honda Marine (David McDiarmid, Matt Stevens and Brad Collins). Although they notched up their third win from five races and top the leaderboard, it is still a tight regatta with four races to be sailed.

Two races were scheduled to be sailed for the AJ Reynolds Trophy. For the first time in the Championship, a sea breeze did not prevail. Instead, dark skies, heavy rain and light winds greeted the fleet as they reached the start area. Rain fell throughout the race.

"We had the #2 rig on," Honda Marine's skipper, Dave McDiarmid told Sail-World. "We rigged up in 5kts and we were first in the water.

"An SE 15-20 was forecast. We were the only ones that got it - but 25-30kts hit us on the way out.

"We got down to the start and did all our prep. Then the race started in 15kts and quickly died to zero. Then we started picking our way through the minefield - and after working the shifts and pressure, we got through to the front.

"We went out set up for 20kts and quickly changed the settings for 10kts. Actually, we started with the 20kt settings, about 5 minutes into the beat we changed them down to the 10kts.

"Everyone had the #2 rigs on because of the forecast, and the start was delayed waiting for the wind to come through. When we were rigging up it was really windy and on the way out it was super-windy and then it just died again and never came back.

"In the end, the wind settled in at 200-210 degrees (SSW). But there were massive changes in direction before it settled down."

The change in breeze direction and strength did not alter the outcome of the race, with Honda Marine getting a conservative start, and then chipped away at the early leaders.

Despite the light winds, there was sufficient breeze for the lighter crews to be able to get two or three crew on the trapeze.

Honda Marine is the lightest crew of the top five. "We're way lighter than Smeg, and 20kg lighter than Winning Group," McDiarmid remarked. The combination of heavier crew weight and small rigs worked against several of the top boats, who struggled to get moving each time they ran out of pressure or did a down-speed tack.

The Kiwis rounded in third place at the first mark, trailing Winning Group and Asko.

Honda Marine followed Asko out to the left-hand side of the course and then sailed straight through to windward after Asko just ran out of the breeze and stopped.

As it transpired, private breezes were the order of the day, with most having a glamour moment when they jagged a private breeze.

"Coming into the bottom mark for the first time after we got a massive shift, we had to pull our kite down, sail on the wind to the mark, and then tack around the bottom mark. We got lucky, and the wind swung with us as we were tacking - so the next upwind was actually upwind again," McDiarmid recalled.

"We only had to do two tacks on the second beat - there was a little shift to the left and a big hole to the right - so we stayed where the breeze was coming from."

From there Honda Marine extended on the fleet. But it was a day when a rooster on one leg could be a feather duster on the next.

McDiarmid says that Honda Marine was never comfortable with their lead. "We had a big distance, but the whole race had been up and down - so we were more than likely to sail into another hole again. So we just kept on going."

"One of the biggest problems was coming down the last leg when we had to pick our way through all the boats - everyone was everywhere - and all different angles.

"We would have had to be very unlucky to have been passed on the final leg. We were halfway down the leg, by the time the boats behind us were setting their kites."

With the series just past the half-way point, there is still plenty of golf left on the Sydney harbour course. On points, Honda Marine enjoy a four-point lead from Smeg (Michael Coxon) and Winning Group who have the wild card of an average points race to play, after getting redress in Race 2 following a collision with a cruising boat.

"There's everything to play for - but if some top boats start finishing outside the top four places, then there will be problems. We are starting to get towards the pointy end of the regatta - so it is getting very exciting," McDiarmid commented.

Two races have now been scheduled for Thursday. The forecast is for light easterlies.

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