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Light and challenging Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race

by Di Pearson / RPAYC media 31 Mar 00:53 PDT
Andoo Comanche makes her move - Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race © Bow Caddy Media

A lovely 8-10 knot westerly marked the start of the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club's 37th Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race, when it started off Barrenjoey Headland at 1pm today, the fleet cracking spinnakers at the start in glorious sunshine.

Unusually, 50 percent of the fleet started on port at the Committee Boat, while the other half started on port at the pin end of the line - an amazing sight.

Andoo Comanche (John Winning Jr), the largest boat in the fleet at 100 feet, started from the wrong side of the line on starboard, spun around and was off. There were a few wide-eyed crews on participating yachts as the 100 footer closed in on them.

There were a few more wide-eyes as the smallest boat in the race, Highway Patrol, Michael Blaxell's Dubois 30, scored the best start, leading her contemporaries out past Maitland Reef. Blaxell's crew enjoyed a moment of utter glory before being swallowed up by the mainstream fleet.

A fairly soft westerly around Cape Three Points, down to 6-7 knots, so kites were just hanging in there. In these conditions the bulk of the fleet will hug the coast.

There will be no race records set this year, according to Dale Mitchell, skipper of the ORMA 60 multihull Rex: "Not possible by the look of it," the Queensland sailor said.

"We're expecting a shutdown early on and another one around the Seal Rocks area that will consume around six hours in total. That's what will push it out for us," he said in relation to a record in the 226 nautical mile race.

"The forecasts show a bit of everything. The light west will go round to the south and the east, with touches of north tonight, then sou' west or west tonight into the morning. This should get us into Coffs around lunchtime Saturday."

What it adds up to, is a tactical and tricky race: "There hasn't been a lot of agreement between the various weather models, so it will take good race management for all on board to get it right and pick the conditions at any given time. It could change the outlook of the race for us," he said in what is a good lesson for all."

Remaining upbeat, Mitchell said, "It'll be a couple of nice days on the water. It's Friday and we're not at work, we're going sailing. There's not a cloud in the sky and it's a beautiful day. That's how we're looking at it."

What it means is that Rex, her three multihull rivals, along with Andoo Comanche and the rest of the fleet had to take a good dose of patience and focus before the start and then knuckle down.

Celestial, winner of the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart is among the contenders to win. The TP52's owner, Sam Haynes, had another commitment so was unable to race. He appointed crew staple, Jack Macartney, as skipper.

"The breeze is definitely all over the shop, particularly tonight, but looking more stable tomorrow. We're sailing with 10 crew (they usually sail with 14-15) to lighten the boat up. We've got plenty of food on board, so we'll be OK," Macartney said.

Haynes added, "Most of the crew are regulars and we've been doing light air training, so we have some idea of polars on the boat. We have some newish sails, so hopefully they'll do alright."

Haynes has fond memories of the race. "It's heading north. Why wouldn't you do a race like this? I'm sorry I can't be there. This race is where I started my offshore racing, where I caught the disease!"

RPAYC yachtsman, Richard Hudson sailed Pretty Woman to fourth overall last year. He is the messiah of the Pittwater to Coffs having contested 34 out of the 36 editions in all sorts of conditions.

"It's an interesting one. It'll probably have some localised effects - and the forecasts don't have enough information to pick those up," Hudson, owner of the modified Farr 45 said.

"When you get past Seal Rocks there'll be quite a bit of current against us. A challenging race with a bit of luck involved. But if we win, it will naturally be skill and dedication," he laughed.

Hudson has confidence in his team, nine having done the Sydney Hobart with him in December. "We have a good team. We're going with 10 (the norm is 12) to cut weight down. We've raced together in all kinds of conditions. We'll see how it unfolds..."

What may unfold is that one of the quality nine two-handed crews could win the race overall. As Martin Cross, who is sailing Transcendence Crento two-handed with son, John, hypothesized last week, "I won't be surprised to see one of the double-handed boats up there in the overall results if it's a small boat race."

If the predicted weather holds, Cross may well be right.

At 6pm, Rex led the fleet and was making good time and was 188 nautical miles from the finish line. Andoo Comanche led the monohulls and had 194nm to go and Highway Patrol is the early overall leader.

Follow the Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Yacht Race on the tracker at: yb.tl/pittwater2023

All information, including entries, on the official website: www.pittwatertocoffs.com.au

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