Racing under Sydney Harbour Bridge

Most people that know me know that I am not a fan of racing (or indeed sailing of any sort) under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, there are a number of reasons for this attitude including:
1 – The fickle winds that bend, test, gust and die for no apparent reason, affected by all the tall buildings on either side of the harbour and the funneling effect of the narrow channel at that point and probably others reasons that I don’t know or understand.
2- The washing machine conditions; it is almost is almost as  if  every bit of wash that bounces up and down the harbour meets under the bridge, bouncing off the deep and vertical walls that have been placed there and “improved’ on since colonisation of the area.
3- Circular Quay is the epicenter of Ferry activity on the harbour (Circular Quay  is “Central Station” for Ferrys) and for those that don’t know a local rule gives Sydney Ferrys absolute right of way, and don’t some of the captains like to enforce it. – Have a look at all the ferry routes on the map below. Time for a caveat here the majority of Sydney  Ferry Captains are the most considerate navigators on the harbour.

4 – It just gets busy with boats of all sorts, from International  Cruise Liners to little tinnies controlled by masters with equivalent variation of ability.

Then I look up and around, get my mind out of sailing mode and look at the scenery, and realise  just how lucky are we to sail in this area. All this comment was generated when I came across a little video on You Tube that was uploaded a few months ago, it motivated me to pen the following an place it on the Video page of the site.

The West Harbour Winter Series race 4 (17-Jun-18) was held in pretty gusty conditions, the course started and finished in the vicinity of Cockatoo Island proceeded down the Harbour around Fort Denison and return to Cockatoo Island with a little detour around Goat Island. we did not do too well on scratch (5th) but were lucky enough to get a first on handicap.

There is a pretty popular web cam on Sydney harbour ( and the operators were good enough to record the period when the Western Harbour Winter Series fleet went under the Bridge and then returned, They then sped up the video and up loaded to  You tube. We are in the third group of yachts heading towards Fort Denison, the only boat in that group with a black main and light coloured genoa. Its worth a look and reminds me of how privileged we are to have such a special sailing area.

G-whizz Elan 340

Wind, Wary, Work, Whoops, Wet then Wow

The forecast for today’s race was for winds in the low 20 knots, the first order of the day was to pick up the crew, go back to the mooring and prepare the boat for the expected wind. The mooring is in a fairly protected area that is only open the westerlies, and while there we had quite a discussion about sail choice, sitting in about 10 knots the choice was leaning towards “Reg” the heavy weight number 1, we were hit with a couple of gusts around 18 to 20 knots, which made the decision to use “Bas” the number 3. That only left fitting the first reef lines, as it appeared that this would also be needed (as it turned out it wasn’t). In light air we normally remove the reef lines to improve wind flow on the Main.

After earlier announcing over the radio course 2 (Laps of Snapper, Spectacle and Goat Island) the race committee changed their mind and decided to  send us on course 4 (Down Harbour, under the Bridge to Clarke island the back again with a little detour around Goat Island thrown in before finishing off the South Eastern Corner of Cockatoo Island). This meant a down hill start with a run to Clarke Island then a work back. After witnessing what could be described as some spinnaker carnage at the start of division 1 we decided to be a bit wary and let the fleet sort itself out and hopefully start a bit behind, unless as we all knew a hole opened up then we would take it, as it happened we were about 20 seconds late, however we were at the leeward end of the line and were able to make a lot of leeward ground which gave us some room the come up a bit in the (not too frequent) lulls.

John had Hasta la Vista going really well and we followed them most of the way to Clark Island. To win the series we really had to beat Hasta la Vista across the line. On the work back up the harbour we were able to slowly pull in all but one of the boats ahead of us and just to confirm my dislike of racing under the Harbour Bridge, with it swirling winds and washing machine water conditions, we had a couple of close port/starboard’s that slowed us down a bit, we did call protest on one, but decided against going through with it as the conditions were a major influencing factor and the other crew were most apologetic.

After finishing second place across the line we sailed back towards the mooring, dropping the sails along the way, normally I would drop the crew off at the club then put the boat on the mooring by myself before returning to club for a drink. Today we put G-whizz on the mooring with the whole crew on board, while that made putting her to bed easy and quick it did mean that we would have to relay the crew back in the dinghy, the first trip with 2 on board and all the bags, the waves were were breaking over the bow and we were taking on a bit of water, when I leaned forward to get the bailer from under all the bags my weight dipped the snub nose into the water, then it was instant submarine, although the gunnels were a few inches under the water, with me in the water hanging on Mark was still able to steer the Torqeedo to a position where we could extricate ourselves onto the Bay Street public wharf. Withe the help of the crew of Hasts la Vista the rest of our crew were able to get back to the club a bit safer and a lot drier than Mark and myself.

A pleasant drink with compatriots on the deck of knowledge, a BBQed sausage and the news that our fifth on handicap was enough to win the series. Wow!

Big thanks to the crew Rob, Graham, Mark and Joely for a great result. (I know I’ve missed a couple – my apologies.


Oops, Damn, then it got better

Oops number 1:
For some insane reason I thought that yesterday’s race was the last for the season, we were sitting in first place in the series, after a count back with John Veale and Hasta la Vista so I did all the calculations of where would need to be in this race to get a result that would keep us in the number 1 position in the series, we arranged for G-whizz’s bottom to be cleaned and were quite happy with the light wind forecast, we were to be a crew of four and I didn’t feel comfortable flying a spinnaker, the light wind and its direction meant that no spinnaker would not really be a disadvantage. Later on the Deck of Knowledge it was pointed out to me that there was still one race left in the series, Oops!

Oops number 2:
About  one minute from the start I was maneuvering into a good position by the committee  boat to be able to toss onto a port tack on the line, taking advantage of the huge bias in the line set,  I was concerned about a later division boat that was getting caught up with us in the start, after giving that boat some convivial advice as to what they needed to do and do it quickly, I lost a bit of perspective and called starboard on Eau de Vie (the eventual leader, changed course to take their stern, called protest only to be politely advised that we we in fact the windward boat of two starboard tackers, as they were so polite I profusely apologised. Oops!

Oops number 3:
Running down the line we had the opportunity to push Eau de Vie over, but decided against it out of the guilty feeling induced from Oops number 2. Oops! Leading to:

After being the nice guy (should that read guilty guy) we found ourselves in a position where we would have difficulty getting above the pin end mark, which we didn’t in fact we picked the damn thing up on our rudder and took it for a drag. At this point we thought our race to be over and decided to try and get the mark back to it something approximating it original position. After a couple of 360’s and some judicious cursing and podding with a boat hook we did part company with the mark and probably got rid of some of the port bias out of the line. We then did another 360 just to make sure we exonerated ourselves and eventually started some six minute late.

Then it got better:
The bottom clean meant that G-whizz was sliding through the water nicely and the wind hovering in the 5 to 8 knot range put it right in our sweet spot. Being so late starting we had the entire fleet ahead of us and we were able to get a good reading on the wind further up the course.

We did a lot of tacking to stay in the wind, the whole crew were concentrating on sail trim, where the wind was and trying to keep in positions away from other boats to stay in clear air and avoid getting into a position where another boat’s stand on position would take control of our course, we really worked hard to be masters of or own destiny.

The wind stayed very much from just north of west which meant that on the course we were set there was really only one short run, between Spactacle Island to the Schnapper Island mark, so our non use of spinnakers was not really a disadvantage.

On the final leg from the Spectacle mark to the finish between the Balmain Sailing Club and Cockatoo Island we were able to out drag Hasta la Vista and get into second behind Eau de Vie, John (Hasta la Vista) set a symmetrical spinnaker but was really a bit too shy, our boat speed on the broad reach was quite a bit faster, John replaced the spinnaker with a big genoa, but by then we were satisfyingly a fair distant ahead.

For the last race let’s hope for less of the Oops and more of the better, we will need it to stay ahead in the series.



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.