Racing is back

It seems like a very long time but was only the 18th of March when we competed in our last race before COVID restriction regulations hit. In the mean G-whizz  has not been idle, fortunately for us in Sydney, within all of the permitted activities that allowed people to leave their accommodation, there was sailing and fishing. The equipment list on G-whizz  now includes a couple of fishing rods and a tackle box courtesy of Ann’s father and in our wallets are freshly minted fishing licenses.

The rules dictated that two co-inhabitating people (or family) could take exercise in the form of sailing but were not permitted to anchor, however fishing was also a permitted activity. Problem solved; sail during the day then anchor and fish at night, the only casualty to all of this was a substantial  leather jacket (a beautifully coloured fish by the way) that Ann caught with a prawn head for bait, hopefully  he survived the ordeal and is a bit more selective when he next snacks on prawn components.

Back to the racing, two weeks ago on the 14th of June we  competed in tbe first of the West Harbour Winter Series since lock down rules were relaxed, it was great to have friends back on board and sail on what was a beautiful day on the water, while we missed the start by about 90 seconds, well we are out of practice, unfortunately our competitors were in practice, after racing without a spinnaker we finished 5th across the line about 30 seconds from third, we were a bit slower than our handicap though where we finished 7th on PHS.

The forecast was not great for today’s race, over the last few days it changed from sunny and no wind to rain  and 10 to 15 knots, although it also depended on which forecast program you looked at, it turned out to be a pretty good day, the rain held off and the wind varied between almost nothing to 15 knots, although most of the time it was in  the area of 4 to 8 knots.

The race started in very light air, incredibly the entire fleet hit the line at almost the same time and were spread of over the entire length of the start line, and that’s pretty much the way it stayed for most of the fleet for the entire race, KoKo the Elan 37 just got further a head as the race progressed, somehow Guwara a Hanse 350 also made a break, we were either smart enough or lucky enough to pick the wind off Birchgrove and were a able to put some distance on the rest of the fleet.

KoKo  just got further ahead but we were running down Guwara, if the course had been 100 meters longer we may have beaten them into second place as it was they beat us into second place by 7 seconds. Third on scratch and fifth on PHS, not a bad day out.

I should mention that it’s good to be back.

Autumn Twilight Series Thus Far

Our Summer series was not our most successful, however we did win the last race, the Autumn series has been a lot more successful, There are a few reasons for this turnaround in performance. A change in the hull cleaning procedure, with the driver spending more time on the rust blooms on the cast iron section of the keep. The next time G-whizz  is out of the water the keel will be subject to some major remedial  freatment. The second reason for turnaround is the absence of the Elan 37 “KoKo” with the skipper out of action after an orthopedic operation and the North shore 38 “Aetos” off the race course waiting on a new mast to arrive. These two boats are generally faster than us, our result are boosted by their absence.

Drifting on t of HumbugThere have been some suprise results with an extremely competitive race in winds in the 20 knots area,  finishing ahead of all the bigger boats, and the performance of Saoirse a Dehler 38  running away from the fleet in light air, we would generally expect to be most competitive in light air while the heavier boats generally handle the heavier air better.

This series we have had some terrific battles with Chris Stannard and his Jeanneau 39i “Worlds Apart”  on many occasions spending a lot of the race only a few meters apart and finishing with seconds of each other.

Jeanneau 39i, Jeanneau Sunfast 37 and an Elan 37 chasing a Dehler 38.The picture above is us drifting out of Humbug in the company of Words Apart and French Connection, it also reminds us that we should concentrate a bit more on trimming the headsail. The photo to the right shows the same three boats chasing Saoirse, who just insisted on sailing into the distance.

Tips for Sailing Crew

When I first started sailing, which was quite late in life, I wish someone had given me a few tips for being sailing crew. I tried to listen, I read a lot and asked questions of a lot of people. By no means am I an expert, but I am at times the master of a sailing boat either cruising or most probably racing, and I have a few ideas or tips for sailing crew.

On G-whizz  the crew have have been from both ends of the experience spectrum, from Ocean Yachtmasters with round the world racing experience or sailors who have cruised the oceans extensively to those who G-whizz is the first yacht they have stepped on.

A list of tips for the sailing crew can be found in the Tricks, Traps and Ideas section under the resources tab on this site. Click here to go there ⟶

Racing for Sheep Stations

Sometime last year Blues Point Yacht Club and Sydney Amateurs  Sailing Club got together and established an inter Club challenge series called the “Sheep Station Series”. There may be some readers that do not understand the irony of the series name. I’ll try to explain – when a player or racer in any competition in Australia (and I suspect New Zealand) takes themselves too seriously they are politely told “Come on mate we’re not racing (playing) for sheep stations!”

The series is structured around a minimum of three boats and a maximum of five that will compete in each of four races, the top three from each club will score to theirrespective clubs. Individual boats performance will also be recognised.

The winning Club will have the honour of displaying the Sheep Station Trophy in their Club House for the ensuing year. (The trophy is a model of Sheep Station buildings). Our results in this series are here (2020 series).

For a better explanation of the Australian slang I defer to Wikipedia. “The phrase is a traditional Australian English term. It is used to describe the terms of a game, sport or competition, often a game of chance. A sheep station is a large sheep farm in Australia or New Zealand, hence denoting something important, large or valuable.

The phrase “playing for sheep stations” has both a literal and ironic usage. In the negative, it is used to encourage participants to play in a friendly and not too competitive manner. Playing sport or cards or a game of some sort, but not for prizes, one might say “take it easy, we’re not playing for sheep stations”. It could be used starting a game of cards or pool for example, to check whether the game would be played for money, beer, or just pride, asking “so, are we playing for sheep stations or what?”

In typical Australian fashion, it can also be used to mean the exact opposite, because a sheep station is such an expensive item that nobody would bet it on a game, the phrase “we’re playing for sheep stations” can also be used to mean that the game is purely for sport, and there is no bet or prize involved.”

Summer Series in Review

Possibly one of the reasons why posts have been a bit scarce recently is that we have not really enjoyed the GFS Twilight Summer Season as much as we do other sailing, there may be a few reasons for this but include our (possibly influenced by my) dislike of the handicap starts and G-whizz herself never really performed to her best, with the exception of the last race. Her performance was affected by a number by:
Her hull was rarely as clean as it could have been, a situation that took a while to address but rectified for the last race and hopefully future races.
My sail selection would have benefited from more thought.
Missing our start time, sometimes by may minutes in an attempt keep out of the melee caused by the handicap stars. (Read the previous post “Summer Series an experiment” which probably explains my state of mind – hence the results).

Smoke haze from the Bush fires blanketing the City of Sydney.
Smoke haze from the Bush fires blanketing the City of Sydney.

There was some very pleasant evenings on the water and some good racing, the sunsets weer often spectacular, I believe caused by the smoke in the air from the bush fires that seemed to want to continue burning, that smoke at times reduced visibility on some evenings. There was little complaining about the smoke, it reminded all of us about the horrific conditions some people were being subjected to.

The Twilight race that falls closest to Australia day forms part of the “Australia Day Regatta” this regatta consists of organised racing on the weekend closest to Australia day plus events conducted at most of the Harbour based sailing and Yacht clubs, it is recognised as the oldest continually run regatta, first sailed in 1837. Having won this event in two of the last three years we approached it with a positive attitude, had the Hull cleaned, selected the correct sails and race in wind conditions that were right on G-whizz’s sweet spot. Needless to say the handicap we were given that reflected our previous poor performances was a major contributor to our first place and a third Australia day Medallion in four years.

Congratulations to the boats that sailed well throughout the Summer Series, Especially Chris Stannard and “Words Apart” and Patrick Houlihan on “Saoirse”. Some photos follow:

Preparing to start
Looking down the Lane Cove River as the fleet jostles for starting positions

Summer Series an Experiment

Once this is off my chest I’ll get back to something that resembles normal postings.

Some time ago the GFS ran a survey to solicit skippers’ opinions of the safety of various aspects of racing at GFS, from memory this survey concentrated on the start and crowding at Onions Point. The results of the survey led the Committee to believe that they should take action and these actions should be trialed in the Twilight Summer series, they included:

  1. Address the crowding at Onions Point.
    They addressed this by placing a buoy off Onions Point, this buoy is not a mark of the course but forms part of the continuing obstruction that is Onions Point. My initial thought was a little perverse in that there is concern about crowding at a certain point so let’s increase the size of the obstruction that causes that congestion, making less navigable water for yachts thereby magically reducing congestion. There was logic behind the placement of this buoy and that was that if a yacht was running out of room they had an escape route that did not involve hitting another yacht(s) or running aground. My opinion is that if all skippers knew, understood and complied with RRS 19 then there would be no issue.
    In retrospect this has not caused too may issues however there have been reports of skippers ignoring rule 19 and barging through, probably encouraged by the fact that there is now room for them to take an escape route if they are unable to bully the boat they are overtaking to give them room. We had one instance of this with a boat demanding room while overtaking between us and the obstruction, we gave them room as it was easier than having an argument with a skipper who has proven before that he believes that the rules do not apply him. I’ll keep the reasons as to why we did not protest private.
  2. Address crowding on the starting line
    I must admit I got tired of being told that there is a regulation that specifies the length of the start line is to be 1.5 times the total length of boats starting and that in Blue and Black divisions that regulation is regulatory broken.
    As far as I can determine there is no regulation, there does however appear to be a recommendation to Principal Race Officers (PRO) to set a start line 1.2 to 1.5 times the total length of boats starting, it also recommends that PROs should use discretion with regard to the environment, the type of boats, the experience of skippers amongst other considerations.
    To address this percieved concern it was decided to have pursuit starts, also described as handicap starts during the summer series, somehow this was going to alleviate the congestion on the start line.
    You can only make judgement from your own perspective, and from our perspective it has been a fail. The Sailing Instructions applicble to racing at GFS 9state that during normal starting procedures (5 minute start sequence) all boats with the exception of those in their start sequence are to keep clear of a defined starting area, in our division that means that there is the potential to be 11 boats (the nimber of boats in Blue division) in the start area, 11 boats that we race against consistently and boats by virtue of being in the same division have similar performance characteristics.
    With the handicap start the Sailing Instructions require that all boats must keep clear of the starting box except those within 3 minutes of their start time. What this meant to us (at our allocated start time) there was the potential of up top 38 boats legally in the start area in the first race of the series, reducing (due to alterations of handicaps as the series progressed) to 33 boats in the last race. Many of these boats have substantially differing ,performance characteristics. Starting is always a little daunting but with that many boats in start sequence daunting went to a completely higher level.

The committee is to be congratulated for recognising that there may be an issue and trying something to address it, however ourselves together with many of our competitors were getting a little tired of hearing  about  statistics that said we the skippers critical of the experiment were in the minority, especially when none of us had spoken to anyone that liked the experiment. In the words of a famous person who’s name does not come to mind, this seemed like a solution that was looking for a problem. Thank goodness we go back to status quo in the Autumn season.

Ghost Ship?

As usual the 2019 Balmain Regatta was a great event, this year we sailed under the Blues Point Yacht Club burgee but were also one of three Greenwich Flying Squadron yachts racing, coincidentally all in the non spinnaker division.

The wind for the day was forecast to be a  10-12 knot westerly dropping to almost nothing as it backed south then picking up again to sub teens as it backed to the east. The forecast was accurate which meant that the start was in very soft winds as the wind went through its slow shift to the east. We had a new crew member on board who we had neglected to instruct on our headsail deployment process, its simple, it works well but it is very unusual, Alec was given the job and was completely un-prepared for what was required. (our Number 1 racing sails are cut a bit shorter in the luff to be able to be stored on the furler, after a race they are “un-tacked” from the deck and lifted to the furler drum, furled then covered with a sock, deployment is the reverse unless a sail change is required – its a system that works very well for us). While all this was being sorted we found ourselves some distance from the start line.

The Balmain regatta is a handicap start event as as it happened we were the last boat to start in the regatta giving twenty one minutes to the scratch boats in our division. After getting the headsail sorted about 15 minutes from our start time we were already racing in that we had to get to the line, we made it with about 45 seconds to spare and needed to kill a bit of time, however a big power boat motoring through the line made it impossible for us to do a 360 and set up for a reasonable angle, we had to be content to luff up leaving us with a square run to the first mark at Schnapper Island.

We set off on the course that went from in front of the Balmain Sailing Club to a buoy off Schnapper Island to Spectacle Island to Manns Point goat Island over to Hunters Hill the back to Goat Island via Manns point then to the finish. The further we went the more the wind picked up to its forecast 10 knots. We were ticking off our competitors as we passed them, after the second rounding of Goat Island we only had 2 boats to catch, “The Saints”, (Another GFS boat) who we could see in a position half way between Goat island and Birchgrove and “Freedom” that was no where to be seen.

As we passed Birchgrove Point there was only “The Saints” about 300 to 400 meters ahead with clear water ahead of them, giving us some anxiety was Pam Joy (our GFS Commodore) on “Tana” not too far behind. We were able to hold “Tana” off but there was no way we could catch “The Saints”. We heard “The Saints” get the finish gun – well actually a hooter – for being the first boat in our division across the line with us following almost 2 minutes ahead and tan seconds behind us.

Back at GFS we were having the usual debrief and were celebrating the fact that three GFS boats filled the first three positions with Pam and her crew, I was a little dismayed that a Ghost ship”Freedom” was recorded a finish time just 40 seconds ahead of “The Saints”. I am probably wrong it may have been there and our entire crew missed seeing it. However our assumed second suddenly became a third, as I said we probably just did not see them, however I have always wanted to write something about a “Ghost ship”.

All in all a really enjoyable day on the water and we really enjoined our race with Tana, it fascinating that we quickly made up the 2 minute that we gave them on the handicap start but were unable to get away from them, swapping positions in some tacking duels, it was not until Pam caught a bad wind shift that enabled us to get reasonable distance on them, however we could not move further ahead.

 

Two Different Races

The first two twilight events at Greenwich Flying Squadron were two different races, race 1 was held in winds that varied between 8 to 20 knots with some gusts to over 25 knots,for  race 2 the maximum wind speed was  closing in on 4 knots but most of the time it was around 2 knots.

There were 48 yachts started race 1 in all divisions, a little down on a normal twilight but probably due to the predicted conditions and some not having their new season’s paper work in order. We were a little late at the start, a circumstance that was all my own doing, I could not make up my mind as to where I wanted to be on the start line compounded by a desire to keep a distance between ourselves and a coupe of other boats, I digress a little but there are a few boats in blue division that I will race very close to, they are quality yachts with quality crew and quality skippering, there are some I will not! My lack of a viable starting plan combined with taking avoiding action on some boats meant that we were last across the line, but with the number 3 and a reef the boat was handling the gusty conditions easily and we were about the fourth or fifth boat out of Humbug and in a strong third around Cockatoo Island, KoKo (Elan 37) and Aetos (Northshore 38) were way off into the distance.

We consolidated our third place on the reach down the Balmain/Birchgrove shore a little in the lee of the shore, I again made a poor decision, conned by the lower wind along the protected shore and shook out the reef the folly of this action was demonstrated as we rounded Birchgrove Point and were back into 15 to 18 knots with gusts over 20 knots, we sailed pretty much on the jib with the main trimmed for minimum power, just to keep her under control, needless to say some of the bigger heavier boats were able to run us down. on the broad reach from Goat Island to Greenwich Point were were able get one or two positions back, but were again overrun in Humbug as the boats behind came up on a strengthening Sou’wester. Race 1 was bit of an interesting baptism for the season but enjoyable all the same.

G-whizz looking for wind
Looking for the wind

We again missed the start in race 2 not for lack of effort and planning but due to an extremely unlucky wind shift, we were about 25 meters from the pin with about 90 seconds to go, the rest of he fleet were about 100 meters away, we started a 360 to kill some time but halfway through the wind shift quite a bit to the east leaving us in a hole and filling the sails of the rest of the fleet, we pretty much sat there and watched them start wondering what to do next. somehow we managed to get back to the fleet at Greenwich Point, but some of the front runners were already way out in the the Parramatta River. the picture  was taken by Jeff Lewis on Aurora and gives a pretty good indication of the conditions, you can see most of the crew with Michael hidden behind the headsail holding on to the forestay divining some wind.

Humbug carpark
A group of yachts going nowhere in Humbug Race 2

By the time we got to Goat Island we were up into second place, behind KoKo who was some distance ahead, but were listening on the VHF to all the boats retiring believing that they wold not make it to the finish before the 2015 cutoff, we too knew that we wouldn’t make it, but kept going in the hope that the predicted strong Nor’easter would kick in and get us home, this was not to be, the only consolation was that no one in our division made it. Out of the 62 yachts that that started only 10 all from the earlier starting divisions made it home in time.

 

Wind and Handicap Conspired Against Us

Sunday’s Blues Point Yacht Club race was held in beautiful conditions, conditions that were in stark contrast to the preceding week that featured strong winds rain and un-pleasantly cool weather. We will not begrudge the rain as it is needed although it is a little frustrating that it falls along the coast and not west of the Great Dividing Range where our drought stricken farmers could really use it. The conditions on Sunday were almost perfect for us, except that the wind and handicap conspired against us.

BPYC races are pursuit starts, in this race we started off 35 minutes, 3 minutes ahead of a J/109 (“Blue Sky”) and 6 minutes ahead of an IMX 38 (“Martela”) and a whopping 17 minutes behind a Farr 36. The conspiracy between weather and handicap was too much for us, the wind was holding up in the 12 to 15 knot range until we were on our final run down the line when there was wind shift from the south west to the south east accompanied by a speed drop to 5 to 8 knots, the boats that started ahead of us had the benefit of the sou’wester while we together with Blue sky and Martela had to battle the reduced winds from the start.

We finished 5 seconds behind Martela and 36 seconds ahead of Blue Sky although Blue Sky’s missing their start time by about 2 minutes probably made the handicappers efforts look better than it actually was. Our finish was about 23 minute behind the Farr 36.

The race was pretty un eventful being bit of a soldier’s course, although the heart rates did rise a bit as we were approaching the final mark, the Sailing Australia mark just off Shark Island, where we were windward of a fleet of Couta boats heading for the same mark, as they had right of way to the mark as well as having rights around it we decided to give them plenty of room, especially as we did not know where their next mark was and not sure of their manoeuvrability if we got into a tussle. The biggest problem was a large sailing boat (under motor) positioned at the mark with a load of spectators aboard, they were fixated on the couta boats, fortunately one of the spectators was a little moreaware of their surroundings than the helmsman who needed quite a nudge from the alert spectator and respond to our hails and whistles and give us the room to be able to give the couta boats the room they were entitled to.

As it transpired there were 3 finish lines set very close to each other, ours, the couta boats and a dinghy race, all three fleets were hitting the line at the same time ass us, Martela which flew a spinnaker on the short run to the finish, took a very wise decision to douse the kite and finish bare headed to give them more control in the very busy water – a very smart decision. Ann who was on the helm was quickly sedated with a glass of bubbles as soon as possible after the finish, the rest of the crew had a medicinal beer before setting course to the west to return to Greenwich.