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Challenging conditions and close racing in the 74th Bunbury and Return Ocean Race

by Susan Ghent 18 Feb 03:02 PST 12-13 February 2022

The Bunbury and Return Ocean Race is an annual overnight event hosted by Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club.

Held in February, teams would expect the wind to be blowing strong along the Western Australian coast at this time of year. They would usually encounter a typical summer seabreeze pattern but every now and then the coast throws in some tougher conditions.

This was the case for day one of the 74th race. Starting near the coast in North Fremantle on Saturday 12 February, the fleet set off at 9am in a moderate southerly wind. After an incident free start it was David Davenport's Crush, a J/V TP52 who led the pack to the first mark. There was a close race going on behind them with 40 footers with Enterprise Next Generation (Botin Carkeek GP 42), Weapon of Choice (Mark Nagle's Fast 40+) and Obsession (Mat 1245, Paul Arns) working up the shore on the left side of the course. Geoff Bishop's CheckMate, appeared inside them at the mark after working up the right hand side. Enterprise NG only narrowly passing ahead of the Summit King 40 who then tacked in behind to round the mark.

From there is was an easy reach to a beacon inside Rottnest Island before setting their sights on the southbound leg to Bunbury. Through the afternoon the wind strengthened, and the sea began to roll. This was a challenge for the teams as they raced to windward all the way to Bunbury.

There was a race within the race going on for the 40-foot racer cruisers. Obsession led the challenge with CheckMate, Al Fresco (Bakewell-White 36) and Wayne Pitcher's J122 Lithium from Hillary's Yacht Club hot on her stern. Last year's season champion Atomic Blonde was neck and neck with Obsession but much closer to shore.

The race was going well for Obsession, navigator Scott Disley said after the race that they had a nice line in to Bunbury. This was the first race out for the yacht in the 21/22 season and the team had decided to take on the challenge for a bit of fun. They were a crew of experienced ocean racers but do not regularly race together on the boat. With the forecast of very strong winds and an all-day upwind battle they agreed prior to the start to make a call along the way. Most were tired after a long working week and needed to be fresh back at work on Monday. Obsession turned around mid-afternoon and enjoyed the run home to their comfy beds with the wind behind them.

John Rayner's Al Fresco was not far behind them but for different reasons. The team was disappointed to have to retire from the race with damage leaving the racer cruiser challenge to Lithium and CheckMate.

Chris Hind and his team on Sagacious IV set out on the Bunbury as a training event. The river-based Farr 40 (136) from South of Perth Yacht Club is preparing to contest a full SISKA Series campaign next season and is working to develop their crew and boat with the goal to perform at the best of their ability.

Chris commented after the race "it certainly did challenge the crew as some had not done an overnighter for quite a while whilst others, this was their first. Hats off to them for their endurance and focus. Iconic races such as the Bunbury Return, in our view, are pillars of the ocean racing in W.A and are a badge of honour worn by all who complete, or try to complete the adventure." They sailed a good race, not too far behind the Dufour 40 Fourth Dimension skippered by Lyn Powell and Ian Whitehead and came in ahead of them overall on PHS in Division Two, Sagacious IV taking out the top spot.

First to arrive in Bunbury was Crush, making the turn just prior to 9pm. Phil and Danielle from Koombana Bay Sailing Club were waiting on station with their yacht Courtesan as Mark Boat Bunbury. They had returned the night before after competing in Geographe Bay Race Week in Busselton, a bit further south, where they won the event overall in Premier Cruising Division A. Courtesan was anchored in the shelter of Koombana Bay, a brief relief for teams as they made the turn. Even though it was a long night out, Phil and Danielle enjoyed being part of the event for the third year running, taking race communications, noting rounding times and sending race updates and pictures back to RFBYC.

After racing neck and neck all the way to Bunbury, Weapon of Choice was next to arrive at the Bunbury turn with Enterprise NG dropping back to be 18 minutes behind them. Mark Nagle's team were further inshore when the breeze began to rotate to the east, the Fast 40+ gaining an advantage. They reported after the race that they lost their instruments before the rounding mark. Heading back, they took a more westerly route outside the reefs trusting their routing for more strength, but a less backed breeze and this tactic worked out for them. They comment "Under a moonlit night with no instruments sailing purely old school, we pressed hard on the A4/SS then the A6 /GS and finally the FR0/GS. Stopping once on the way to clear weed and stop our prop from spinning we managed to get away from Enterprise and hang on to the TP52."

The hard work and focus paid off for Weapon of Choice who placed first in Division One and Overall on both IRC and PHS.

Another tight battle was going on between Lithium and CheckMate, they were met at the beacon inside Rottnest Island by Hugh Warner's Ocean Ranger III, the Elliott 35ss had been gaining ground through the night on the run back in a dying breeze. In the crew of Ocean Ranger III was 18-year-old Grayson Downs who has come through the youth sailing programmes at RFBYC. New to the long-distance events he was finding his sea legs in the race but got on with the challenge, it's great to see young sailors getting involved in ocean racing in WA.

All three yachts were together at the turn are sailed close on the final beat to the finish. CheckMate arriving first but Wayne's team on Lithium placed ahead on corrected time with a fourth in the IRC result and 2nd in PHS in Division One.

It was a lonely sail back for Simon Torvaldsen's Atomic Blonde (JPK 10.80) who placed first in Division Two IRC. The only double handed team in the race was Kraken who followed her over the line, Todd and Dubbo hanging in to complete the race on their Jeanneau Sunfast 3300, even though the conditions were not what they ordered. They placed third on IRC in their division behind Salacia II, an offshore icon built in 1971 and owned by Ross Norgard from Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club.

The last yacht over the line was Winston Scotney's Corniche, she sailed further out to sea for the later part of the leg south and this did not pay off for the team. The Warwick 46 completed the race in one day, nine minutes making it home in time for Sunday dinner.

David Davenport's Crush is new on the scene in WA and the crew have been working hard to get used to their larger boat, previously competing on a Sunfast 3600. The team were first over the line in 19h, 6 minutes.

Owner/skipper Dave comments "Our first blue water race went really well, with crew working hard to keep Crush going. We had a really good start and upwind leg and arrived at Courtesan in the Bunbury harbour ahead on IRC. Our reefs and sail changes had gone well, given they were our first ones we had completed on the racetrack, and in breeze, and apart from some concerns about weed on rudder which we could not resolve on our beat down, we were in good spirits. On the way home our prop was spinning and vibrating through the boat and rudder and we could not get it to stop. Despite this, the crew were tireless in their efforts to try and get some that extra speed that finally eluded us. We were very happy we had made it back in good shape, first over the line, second on IRC overall, and we learnt a huge amount about managing the boat, 15 crew, food, water, rest and hydration. It was a tough first blue water outing and we are happy to have been a part of this event and looking forward to the 75th year event!".

Full results and race media on the RFBYC website

Watch the race replay using the YB Races app (Bunbury and Return 2022) or online here.

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