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Something to get your teeth into

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 13 Feb 2022 13:00 PST
The Gucci-est of all steak sandwiches. Yum. Worth any sail in any conditions to get there for. Really! © John Curnow

The glamour King Island steak sandwich. Yes please. You have to cross Bass Strait proper in order to get one, and the Kerosene Canary is often a far easier and warmer way to do it, but it is always worth it. Always. The island itself, and the wonderfully warm and hospitable people themselves just add to the mix.

On March 12, 13, and 14 of this year, it is the Labour Day long weekend in Victoria, and amongst many things, it will mark the running of the 50th Melbourne to King Island race. 34 boats are entered currently, so that will make for jam-packed conditions in Grassy Harbour when they get there. One of them is no doubt going to be the newly-launched Carkeek 43, Scarlet Runner, which should have completed all her shake down cruises by then.

Still, going on previous form, the King Island Boat Club, and all of its volunteers, will ensure there are enough steak sandwiches on offer for all, and an ample supply of magnificent crayfish (lobsters) for people to get their teeth into. Oh, and cold beers.

A chat with ORCV Commodore, Grant Dunoon, also revealed a fair bit more: "We're excited about what the next 18 months has on offer. We're calling it 50:50:70. Coming up is the 50th race to King Island, then at Christmas we are running the 50th Westcoaster down the West Coast of Tasmania to Hobart."

"Then in May of 2023, we're running the 70th jaunt along Victoria's Surf Coast to Apollo Bay."

Dunoon added, "The Rudder Cup, the 195NM Melbourne to Devonport, is the world's fifth oldest ocean race, and is now in its 114th year. We've moved it to the weekend of the Melbourne Cup, which is always our annual qualifier for the Christmas races, and we certainly expect a big fleet for that, as too the Westcoaster!"

By the way, the word is that this move will remain as a permanent calendar mark, so that the Rudder Cup has its own space, and the Westcoaster can continue to inspire sailors to take it on.

A little bit further down the range finder, and there is a strong chance that a race into the South Pacific will be back on. It has been a while since the last haul out to Vanuatu, but the new race looks set for Noumea, and is just a tad shorter. Interest appears high, as it would, given you get a better angle out to the isles than heading straight up the East Coast of Oz, and a wonderful blast back into the Whitsundays in order to be ready for the annual Winter games there. That could be winner winner chicken dinner, right there.

Also of note is that an ORCV member, Bruce Reidy, has formed a group to look into any common causes for accidental PLB and AIS MOB device activations. They are working with AMSA, and the crews of boats where this occurred, as well, so the findings will be good reading, for sure.

So the 50th Westcoaster, hey. A race they said could not be done. Think again. The coastline, when you can see it, is amazing, and there is always a wry smile as you pass places like Cape Grim, and Hells Gates (yes, who had time for an apostrophe in those days?), and the surfing along the bottom, past Maatsuyker Island is always fondly remembered, as too the glorious Bruny Island area (also refer to comment 'when you can see it').

Now inside that race, there is a special group who have done it two-handed, usually in preparation for the venerable Melbourne to Osaka 5500nm haul. However, and importantly, inside that group is yet another, and they are even more special, and literally only a handful in size. Seriously. They are the women who have done it. One of them is Alex McKinnon, and so I asked her what that was like.

Alex said, "It was incredibly challenging, particularly as the boat was set up for crewed racing, not short-handed. So you had to think things through, and your timing had to be spot on, such as when reefing, so that you did not load up either the gear or yourself!

"All this practice set us up well, as on the return trip when we'd already made it into the famed Southwest National Park area, we were able to set the first reef faster than the fully crewed boat next door to us."

"You were continually evaluating 'what if' scenarios, as the margins for error were slim and very significant, especially when you were the only one on deck. Tiredness was a major factor, because the autohelm was only of limited use, especially in heavy weather, of which there was a lot. For this reason it was a real endurance race.

"Certainly by the time we got in, sleep was all I could think of, and my body has never ached so much before or since. I still regard it as one of my greatest accomplishments, because you were pushed so hard, so often, and so continuously, both physically and mentally. Indeed, before setting off I did not think the mental side as a result of the fatigue would have been so very challenging and difficult to overcome."

"All of our food was cryovaced and reheated on the two-burner stove, when conditions allowed for such, which was infrequent at best. So a lot of dry biscuits were consumed.

"Despite all of this, the night watches were amazing because of the real sense of being on your own and absorbing the environment around you. There was a rhythm to get into with the seaway, which all added into the peace and tranquillity of it all. This is still quite amazing to ponder, for the conditions were often far under ideal. This is not a t-shirts and shorts race, with the wind wafting in gently from 100 degrees or more. Most of the time we had 20-35 knots on offer."

"You know it's funny, you've come to me to talk about such a small club of us women who have done it, but I reckon there is a club of only just the one, and that's canine. Zoe, the Dingo/Kelpie cross, was an amazing companion, never missed a watch, sturdy on her feet, useless up on the bow, but brilliant at barking at birds, which was a little distracting, I have to say, but funny now. She was also the best foot warmer, ever. What a dog! Zoe just loved being on the water, as do so many of us.

"Since those times, and being a female skipper in the Sydney to Hobart, it has been so wonderful to see more women come into sailing, and taking bigger leaps forward. I trust many will discover the true joys that is short-handed sailing for themselves."

OK. We're off and flying with 2022, the season still has plenty of bang to offer, and there's a load more to come. Let's go for a yacht. WoooHoooo. Meanwhile, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into!

John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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