Better than Expected

GFS Start Panarama
Panorama of GFS Twilight start. Photo by Mark Palmer.

The above photo was taken by Mark Palmer and posted to the GFS Facebook page. It shows Black division start in last evening’s Twilight, Blue Division boats (our division) can be seen hovering along the Northwood shore in preparation for their start.

G-whizz was fully converted to cruising mode during the week in anticipation of a cruise up the coast this weekend. There is not a lot involved in this mostly filling the water and fuel tanks, removing the racing sail wardrobe, converting the forward cabin from a sail locker to human habitation, putting the #2 (Tom) roller furling Genoa on the furler and provisioning with a supply of food, drinks and clean linen. In this configuration coupled with the hull bottom not being cleaned for about six weeks a result near the front of the field was not anticipated.

As is becoming frustratingly common all of our regular crew members were else wise occupied but we were lucky that Chris from “Red William” the SS34 was available to assist due to Red William’s non appearance. Being a bit short handed and not expecting a great result we made a conservative start trying not to adversely affect the other competitors, but were surprised on the run out of Humbug at our competitiveness, by the time we had rounded Cockatoo Island we were mid fleet running down a couple of boats but unable to stay anywhere near the front runners of “Izzi”, “Agrovation“, “French Connection” and the casual entry of “Allegro” an indecently fast Cavalier 395. After the rounding of Goat island and the run home we tried to stay on the windward side of fleet, running off by about 15 degrees seemed to give us a better VMG than the rest of the fleet that were happy to run pretty square. A fairly well time gybe (Thanks Ann) meant that we were able to cross through the fleet and set up for a better angle to enter Humbug.

Ahead of us we could see plenty of yachts stalled on Humbug’s western shore, normally the position of choice to navigate Humbug in any wind that has any sort of East in it, we could also a bit of pressure building on the eastern shore so decided on a course pretty much up the middle of Humbug, it worked a treat, not only did it give us a shorter course to the finish line but also gave us first use of the mildly building pressure enabling us to pass all but “French Connection”, “Agrovation” and “Worlds Apart” (“Allegro”, the casual entry had already finished some six minute earlier) who were just too far ahead. A fifth on scratch, fourth if you discount the casual entry was a pleasing and welcome result.

Another great night on the water enjoyed by a fleet of 66 yachts and more than the usual number back at the club for a very convivial dinner.



Twilight Racing Becomes Moonlight Racing

The last Twilight for February was a frustrating affair. The course set was in hindsight too long, but to give the course setters credit the fluky winds could not have been predicted. We were again only three but with a steady 10 to 12 knots predicted it was not going to be a problem.

The wind that were experienced were some of the strangest that I  have encountered in my limited sailing experience. wind shifts of over 90 degrees were the norm and coupled with a strong incoming tide made working along the Parramatta River between Cockatoo Island and Clarks Point a frustrating affair. At one point we witnessed two yachts ahead of us both

G-whizz Elan 340 Moonlight Sailing
Five minutes before race time limit and about one Thousand meters to go. Frustrating. Photo Jeff Lewis.

close hauled but the starboard tacker was on a collision course with the port side of the port tacker, two boats about thirty meters apart sailing in wind differing in an angle of way over 90 degrees. The majority of us needed over 10 tacks to travel the length of Cockatoo Island, about 500 meters. Two boats Izzi, now skippered by Ross’s son Andrew, and Worlds Apart added to the frustration by sailing through this area  with only a couple of tacks.

Izzi an Worlds Apart were the only two boats in Blue division to finish within the time limit.

The photo was taken by Jeff Lewis on Aurora with the side of G-whizz being illuminated by their starboard navigation light, as we drifted past using the moon as a pointer. the photo was taken at about 8:10pm just five minutes before the 8:15pm time limit, and with about 1000 meters to go to the finish.

An Unhappy Couple of Weeks

The GFS twilight race on the 14th of February was an enjoyable race, we were joined by Julian from the Young 88 “Mind over Matter” which is sold and his replacement boat is yet to arrive. Julian will be forgiven for breaking our dry boat race rule, he is the purveyor of fine wines from his company “Back Vintage” and brought along a bottle of his excellent bubbles.

We tend to think that if we can finish in the top three we have had a pretty good race, so a fourth across the line is pretty close to a satisfying result. A very fond memory of this race that we will carry for a long time is the tussle we had with Izzi (Northshore 38) almost all the way from Cockatoo Island to the start of Humbug.  On a close reach we were never more than a few meters apart, each of us moving ahead or dropping back as if connected by an elastic band, but most of the time we were beam to beam, there was some fantastic banter between the crews and between the skippers, Ross Springer on Izzi and myself on G-whizz,  it was one of those instances that really highlight the friendly competitiveness of yacht racing. We heard the next day that Ross died from a heart attack that evening, not long after returning home.

The Saturday point score race on the 17th was a forgetful affair still slightly glum with the passing of Ross and struggling in strongish winds with a short crew we finished the race without too much damage, although Ann was pretty shaken and left bruised after a bad gybe that had her flying horizontally across the deck and under the life lines, only staying on board only by raising her arms vertically, the only reason we did not retire there and then was that is was quicker to sail back to the club than to motor.

The Twilight race on the 21st was a melancholy affair with Izzi joining the race crewed by just about every one that has crewed on her and a number of Ross’s grandchildren. Most of blue division sailed with a black streamer flying from our back stays out of respect for Ross.

Friday before last Saturday’s race was Ross’s funeral, a large affair that was attended by many of his crew and competitors along with a huge number of his friends and people that Ross had touched in his professional career, I gather in a lot of instances the same people. One poignant moment was watching his coffin being carried into the chapel by the Izzi crew dressed in their crew shirts. In her eulogy Ross’s wife Helen made a passing reference to his pleasure in beating us on the water, a feeling that we also share about Izzi, hopefully to  continue as Ross’s sons have indicated they will try and continue to campaign Izzi.

Saturday’s race was held in strong gusty winds, not our favored conditions, but was memorable more by the antics of some of our competitors and other fleets on the water. on a couple of occasions we had competitors demand right of way while still in the process of tacking onto starboard, in hind sight I should have protested but to be honest my mind was not in it. Although I have now added a couple of boats to my “Stay Clear Of List”. We also had two other instances where matters could have turned out a lot worse. The first was when we were running on starboard but sailing a little by the lee in an attempt to make a navigation mark, (In GFS races all navigation marks are to be respected) when a Hartley 16 competing in their Saturday race decided to tack onto starboard without looking! We were able to miss them, Just! With another unwanted uncontrolled gybe! They went on their merry way seemingly totally oblivious to us, we had to do a 360 turn to leave the mark on the correct side, and left us wondering what the result would have been if an Elan 340 doing around 6 knots T-boned a wooden Hartley 16, we would probably still be trying to explain it to the coroner. In the second instance a close hauled port tacking Laser decided that he had more right to a piece of water that was also occupied by a starboard close hauled Elan 340, every time we pinched up a few degrees to give him room he appeared to do the same almost as if he was hunting us, at the worst possible moment he capsized and launched himself right in front of G-whizz, a quick crash tack saved the laser sailors life but also then put us on a collision coarse with a couple of dicing 12 foot skiffs and a Cherub being sailed by juniors. Fortunately good seamanship by all concerned avoided any further issues.

I have never thought that I would prefer to be somewhere else than on a sail boat but the events of the past week made me think about the enjoy ability of yacht racing. I’ll get over it! My apologies to the crew for my attitude have been profuse.

Better than the Scoreboard Indicates

The fifth Down Harbour Race for the season was held yesterday, with not a lot of wind forecast in the period of the race a relatively short race was set. Starting outside of the GFS club house on the Lane Cove River under the bridge to a turning mark (a Sailing Australia permanent mark – better known as YA mark) just off Shark Beach at Nielson Park Vaucluse, then returning to the finish outside of the Club house.

We race in Division 1 in these races and somewhat unusually we were the second largest boat in the fleet, substantially smaller than the Young 40 “Flashback” but about the same size as the other 4 competitors, a Jeanneau 32, Elan 320, Dehler 32 and a Robinson 950. We were a crew of three with Ann and Robert working in front of the traveler and your’s truly doing the easy stuff behind it. We were not in a position to fly a spinnaker so our objective was win the work to Nielson Park (Well at least be the 2nd boat there after “Flashback” the Young 40).

There are some aspects of the Down Harbour races that I am not too enamoured with:
Racing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with it’s fluky winds, washing machine water conditions and the ever present ferries that have absolute right of way entering and exiting Circular Quay.
Crossing a number of other race fleets east of the bridge; mixing it with other fleets is not normally an issue but crossing some of the one design fleets of Historic 18 footers (I try to give these guys some latitude as they always seem to be on the edge), modern 18 footers and foiling months does require a lot of concentration and forethought to minimise the effect on either of our races.
We also mix it with mixed keel boat fleets from among others the CYC, Royal Sydney and Middle Harbour, while the rules are clear on who has right of way I always feel that a boat working to windward on its own is a lot more maneuverable than a boat under spinnaker in company with its other competitors, so I tend to try to give these guys some consideration as well, especially if I can do it without costing us too much time or distance.
Finally the same YA mark could be used by a number of different fleets, Sailing Australia has a rule that these marks must always be taken to starboard (Thank Goodness) but it can be interesting when a few boats racing from different direction enter the zone and leave the mark on courses potentially up 180 degrees difference, again the rules are clear but it does take a bit of planning and tolerance from all concerned.

G-whizz Elan 340
Southern Cloud on Start Line in the Lane Cove River. Photo Johnny East.

Yesterday we also had another situation that required some forethought, Southern Cloud a 40 meter triple masted super yacht anchored almost exactly in the middle of or start line. Down Harbour races are started and finished between two permanent marks, one located at the Club the other on the Hunters Hill Sea Scout Building on the opposite shore of the Lane Cove River.

After what was out of necessity a pretty conservative start we were able to quickly run down and get well ahead of the fleet, with the exception of “Flashback”, by the time we got to the Harbour Bridge, we were  joined by a few of the Etchells that started 5 minutes behind us, It was interesting that while they were able to easily catch us we were able to match their speed until we diverted off onto our own differing course, they went around Shark Island, we had to continue to Neilson Park. It could be that as the winds were a bit lighter west of the Bridge, Etchells friendly conditions, the somewhat brisker winds east of the bridge may have favoured us.

The return back to the finish was pretty much a square run so it was to be expected that the guys flying spinnakers would run us down, it was not until Fort Denison that the first of them, “Tana” the Jeanneau 32 and “Hasta La Vista” the Dehler 32 finally caught us, we tried everything, including Gull winging and running angles, but just could not generate the VMGs of the spinnaker flyers.

The results do not look that good on paper, but given the circumstances we are very happy with the way G-whizz went and the way we sailed her. Given the conditions, both forecast and actual we could have used the light weight #1 (Wes) instead of the heavy #1 (Reg)  which would have given us a bit more speed, especially in he light winds west of the bridge. Ann and Robert did a sterling job and our plan to try and minimise the number of tacks meant that we went a little closer to some shores and further into some bays than we would normally. One of the best tacks we did was about a boat length off Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, right in front of the tourists. We wonder how many holiday albums we will appear in next week.

An Interesting Sail Choice

Last evening’s GFS Twilight race was always going to be bit of challenge with 15 knots from the north east in the forecast, the race started as usual outside of the Club, through Humbug, a lap of Cockatoo Island then around Goat Island and back to the finish via Schnapper and Spectacle Islands (See area map here).  Not long before the start we did a quick reconnoiter of the course and confirmed the obvious, brisk winds up to 20 knots at the eastern end of the course, and gentler winds, down to 8 – 12 knots in the west. As usual the best sail choice would have been two sails, with a couple of changes during the race, but as this was not really practical we came up with a creative solution.

As mentioned in previous posts the fleet we race in are all somewhat larger than we are and can carry larger sail area in the heavier winds and have a decent amount of sail area available in the gentler stuff. Our large # 1’s (Wes and Reg) are about 12 inches shorter in the luff than what they could be, this does not cost a lot in sail area but does allow us to store the sail on the furler at the and of the race. They are deployed with the tack on the deck but at the end of the race they are released from the deck and attached to the furler drum, a quick adjustment to the halyard and then furled, UV protection is taken care of with a covering sock. This allows the boat to be put to bed quickly and allows the crew to get to dinner and wine a lot quicker than would otherwise be possible.

Last evening we decided that we would use Reg, who is pretty happy up to about 15 knots and sort of usable to about 17, but fly him from the furler drum and not from the deck, reasoning that with the foot of the sail being somewhat above deck level it would lose the end plate effect and be a less powerful sail. The only downside of this was that with the clew sitting higher we were not able to achieve the best sheeting angles which probably cost us about 5-10 degrees of pointing ability, it would have been ideal to have the genoa cars back a further 3 to 6 inches on the works, but we were at the aft limit of the genoa car track. This seemed to work well, and with the addition of a reef when to wind got up around 20 knots we were not too over powered.

We held an easy 3rd place for most of the race with only Agrovation and Saoirse (a Dehler 38) ahead, it wasn’t until the final work down between Cockatoo Island and the Hunters Hill shore where we completely misread a huge wind shift was Izzi (A North Shore 38) able to slip by. It was gratifying to later have the Patrick Houlihan the skipper of Saoirse comment on the way G-whizz performed unusually well in the stronger winds.

While somewhat an unconventional sail choice it did mean that we had good control of the boat to windward, albeit losing some pointing ability, and have a decent amount of sail area up for the the reaches and runs. Ideally a racing #2 would be perfect, but as we don’t have one we need to make the best of what we have got and in reality we only have a handful of races each season where the wind exceeds 15 knots, in most of those instances Bas the #3 is the obvious selection, however in a Nor’easter the winds do vary appreciably in strength around the course.

We welcomed Richard from the UK on board last evening whose youthful enthusiasm, physical ability, sailing experience and great personality really assisted Ann and Graham, a crew of 3 would have made the race a lot more demanding.


An Interesting Night on the Water

The weather forecast for last Wednesday’s Twilight race at GFS was bit of a mess, There was a Strong wind warning for Sydney Closed Waters in place for a couple of days before hand and in fact it was still in place at the start of the race. G-whizz has a loose rule that if there is a strong wind warning in place for the race area, she will not sail to protect her crew and herself.

We decided the previous day not to race, but as usual we went to the Club for a meal. Umzimkulu 2 were the duty crew on clean up, but they also had decided not to race. As we were all standing on the Deck of Knowledge about an hour before the start time and the wind was not behaving as predicted we decided to give G-whizz a run with some of the crew of Umzimkulu and Glenda who had also decided not to race her Benetau 27.7 “Vitesse”, we decided to use the #4 Heavy Weather Jib (this sail has not even been honored with a name). This sail has never been used and has only ever been out of its bag for inspection and measurement. Geez its both small an flat.

We also started with a reef, to say we were under canvassed would be and understatement so our result was a bit surprising in that we were not actually last (Results). The wind conditions were at West Sydney Harbour’s best (worst?) with the wind varying between 5 to 25 knots and some gust up to 10 knots higher than the ambient wind. The shifts were some times up to 90 degrees and very sudden. There was about 5 minutes of the race where the wind never got below 25 knots, all the crew reckoned at that time that the #4 is a fabulous sail, and we were quickly making ground on the fleet, most of whom were luffing mains or rounding up, for a brief moment it appeared that we had made an inspired rig choice and may in fact have caught and passed the fleet, not to be. On the final run (which was pretty square) the wind dropped to sub 10s, not even shaking out the reef could give us enough power to match the speed of most of the other boats.

Not surprisingly the race was enjoyed by all on board, the head sail crew were appreciative of the small sail on the tacks, there was very much a social atmosphere on board and a lack of concentration by the driver (yours truly) meant that we missed most of the shifts and most of the time we were successfully able to tack into a knock. But the sail was a bonus, no one ornothing got hurt, and it was interesting to see the #4 up on the forestay, having its maiden fly about 10 years after manufacture.


Not a Bad Result and a Series Round Up.

Last evening’s twilight was race in 2 totally different sets of conditions. The course started as usual outside of the GFS Club House proceeded through Humbug did a lap of Cockatoo Island then around Goat Island back to another loop of Cockatoo then through Humbug to the finish outside of the Club. (See area Map).  The wind in the area from the start to the area off Manns Point averaged about 8 knots, with the occasional gust to 12 knots. The area east of there had wind averaging about 15 knots with gusts to over 20 knots. If we had one more crew member I probably would have done a couple of sail changes, but as it was it was prudent to run with one sail, in this instance we chose “Bas” the #3. This decision meant that for about half the race we were properly rigged, for the other half we were seriously under canvassed. Due to the sheeting angles on Bas G-whizz can point quite a bit higher in most winds, but on anything but close hauled the lack of sail area really hurts.

This was a night for the bigger boats that can carry more canvass in these conditions, so it was pleasing to be able to lead for a substantial part of the race, only to be run down by some bigger heavier boats as the race progressed. There is one boat in the fleet “French Connection” a Jeanneau Sunshine 36 from the 1980s, she is incredibly quick, and well sailed she also seems to be able to carry a lot more sail in bigger winds than G-whizz. French connection just out dragged us on the last run from Long Nose point to Cockatoo Island, putting us back into 4th.

A sail change would have substantially improved our position, but as it was not to be, we finished where we finished, still a great result and a credit to the crew of Ann, Graham and Chris(2), and another great evening’s sail.

This race was also the last of the Summer Twilight season on which I would like to comment on the scoring system. While I do hold to the adage that if you don’t want to do the handicapping, don’t criticize the handicapper. But I am not too sure as to how to take the scoring system. In race 4 we retired due to our in involvement in an incident (To the Rescue). we were given 5 points as redress on the night. Supposedly our average which after the results of the previous three, a 1, a DNC 15 (which would be a drop) and a 5. Including the potential drop the average would be 7, not including the potential drop the average would have been 3. To confuse the matter further the score given to us for that race in the scratch results was 5.8 which is an average of all our results for the series, including the drop, while the drop is not included in the total score. This may sound like bit of a moan, it probably is, but it is to my mind not only a little confusing but also it somehow seems a little unfair to G-whizz and her crew.

We do not race for sheep stations, unless Julian Todd of Back Vintage Wines puts that value on his marvelous sparkling wine, one of a number of different prizes awarded, and Twilight racing is more of a social affair. We all do have a competitive component in our make up, most of us give the results some regard. Given the score that we were awarded for redress I still would not have hesitated in assisting our fellow sailors. I do muse however if the stakes were higher and some one else was involved would the outcome have been the same. A final comment; if the penalty should fit the crime, some might say that we got a dud rap. Rant over, don’t abuse me too much – thanks.

To the Rescue

The start of last night’s GFS twilight was a bit chaotic, about 7 boats (us included) seemed to have exactly the same idea as to the best starting procedure. We all wanted the same bit of the start line at the same time! There were at least 3 boats that we could have protested and I suspect about as many that could have protested us, but in the light winds and limited room to manoeuvre it was mutual self survival, there was no shouting just people getting on trying to stay out of other peoples way, fortunately the start remained non contact, a couple of boats were able to stay out of the melee and benefited with big leads through Humbug.

We ended up at the back of the field, the trimmers worked hard to give us a bit more speed on the reach across to Cockatoo Island and by the time we turned down wind to run along the southern shore of the Island we were in a position to get to windward of the fleet. The pressure was a bit stronger a bit further out and we were gathering in the fleet, by the time we rounded the south eastern corner we had climbed to fourth and were make good time on third place.

We had just gybed onto a starboard and as I looked behind to make sure we had room to come up on the boats behind I saw something that I never wish to see again. The crew on one of our competitors boats were changing position, probably in preparation for a gybe when they accidentally gybed, two of their crew were hit by the boom, the noise was astonishingly loud (sickeningly so), one of the victims just slumped to the deck, while the second went over board and hit the water motionless (the splash can be seen off Sirocco’s port side in the incredible photo below). A third noticed the that the crew member in the water was not moving and dived in to assist, fortunately the first in quickly regained consciousness and started a slow swim, but there were now two people in the water, and the crew of the boat were tending the first victim on board. We hailed them asking if they required assistance to which they quickly answered in the affirmative.

L to R Takana, Saoirse and Sirocco at the the moment of MOB from Sirocco , incredible photo by Jeff Lewis.

We quickly dropped the head sail and luffed the main, started the engine and put our selves in a position to retrieve the swimmers. Those familiar with the Elan 340 will know that it has a high transom that makes it extremely difficult to board without assistance, (The picture below does not illustrate that height as it was taken in fairly rough water while we were exceeding 8 knots on a broad reach, in these circumstances  she tends to bury her bum – it’s the only photo I can find of the subject safety gear) the swim ladder is not a permanent fixture and lives in a cockpit lazarette, we have an emergency rope ladder that hangs unobtrusively from the stern pushpit, we deployed that ladder and were able to position the boat so that the suspected injured swimmer could grab and hold on, a lifesling was thrown to the second swimmer. The guy hanging onto the ladder was unable to climb it, made even more difficult by me having to keep the boat moving to avoid colliding with the rock wall of Cockatoo Island. We were able to collect and fit the swim ladder, swing the victim from the rope ladder to the swim ladder and get him on board. Quickly followed by the second swimmer. Even though it was quite a balmy evening, these guys were really cold and I suspect out of embarrassment or a bit of shock were reluctant to accept any form of assistance. Fortunately the girls in our crew were able to at least get wet jackets off them and wrap them in dry towels.

G-whizz Elan 340
The safety gear used to good effect last evening.

The upshot was that the two crew that were hit with the boom were in pretty good shape, at least one of them was taken to hospital as a precaution while the second, the one we picked up was apparently showing no ill effects for his adventure, I hope he got himself checked out though. I am now glad that we always set up the lifesling and emergency ladder whenever we go out, I have often thought why do I do this and maybe in the benign waters in the harbour we can go without these safety bits, never again will I think that. I was also glad to have had a bit of training in Man Over Board, while this was the first time I have had to use it, it did demonstrate to me just how hard it can be to get an exhausted, but conscious person back on board, I hope I never have to deal with an unconscious one.

By the time we got back to the Deck of Knowledge for our meal we were informed that a decision had already been made to award us our average point score as redress.

Nice race, pity more didn’t enjoy it.

Today’s race was held in conditions that followed the weather forecast to the letter, a building nor’easter with temperatures in the high 20s. About the only thing that didn’t go to plan was the entry list. Four Etchels, John Veale in Hasta la Vista and ourselves. The entries in division 2 were even more disapointing, Phil Hare and Paul Hanly in their South Coast Magnum “Flair” and Beneteau First 27.7 “Paca” respectively. I do hope that some owners and crew get back from the Christmas New Year holiday season before the next race, John is leaving Hasta la Vista on its mooring for a few weeks while he competes in the Heron dinghy National championships on Port Stephens, so it could be a bit lonely.

Setting a course for a nor’easter in the Western Harbour area is a real challenge for the race committee, the best they could do is what we raced today, which really was bit of a soldier’s course (a lot of beam or broad reaching). Spinnakers were a rarity, only 2 or 3 of the Etchells hoisted spinnakers, and not to great effect we somehow managed to pass 2 of them under spinnaker with only our number 3 head sail (Bas),  more to do with the shy angles and gusting winds than our abilities as salors.

It is was good that we were able to mix it with the Etchells and while we were able to get into 3rd position we were out sailed on the last reach to the Lane Cove River by the guys on Forte Forever, one of the Etchells who picked the shifts a lot better than us, so back to 4th on scratch and that’s where we finished. The win on handicap was a bonus, due to us regularly racing without a spinnaker, so in a race where spinnakers were not an advantage to our competitors a handicap win was more a function of arithmetic than performance.