Likely the most in-depth race report we’ve ever gotten for a six-boat fleet (and we edited about 1000 words out), it is also from a class you most likely have never heard of: the Pacer 27. This is their nationals, from South Africa last month. We love this stuff….
This great value for money sports boat has been finding popularity with skippers over a wide range of venues both coastal and inland – mainly for it’s sparkling performance. The class association held the third nationals at the inland venue of the Vaal Dam near Johannesburg in late September as part of the annual Keel Boat Week which attracts around 50 entries. It is a mind numbing 18 hour trip towing a 27 footer – kudos to those that undertook the marathon journey.
Seriously close one design racing is what this event was all about. Despite the fairly small entry of six boats, those that were on the water enjoyed outstanding close quarters racing with many of the races seeing four Pacers finishing within seconds of each other. Ant Wentworth’s ‘Felix the Cat’ ended up as the overall winners, notwithstanding the top four boats all finishing on 10 points each for a four way tie. Second placed ‘Regent Express’ ended with an identical score line to ‘Felix the cat’ where the tie was broken on the better position in the final race – the very race where ‘Regent Express’ skippered by Trygve Roberts had a halyard break and sent them plummeting from a possible 1st place right down to last in the final race. They jury rigged a second halyard and fought back to finish 4th in the final race, but it was one point too little for the overall win. Finishing 3rd overall was Andrea Giovaninni on ‘Pacer 3’ fresh from a similar podium finish in the Lipton Cup.
What a pleasure to go sailing on absolutely flat water in fresh breeze in shorts and T Shirts. Conditions on the Vaal for the first two days suited the Pacers perfectly with fresh breezes and flat water which makes the Pacer 27 Sport a delight to sail. Two yachts in the gold and silver fleets were dismasted which says something of how strong the breeze was. None of the Pacers suffered any such maladies. Noticeable in this regatta was the number of boats sporting new sails from a range of sailmakers.
Fresh to strong winds on the Vaal Dam (18 to 32 knots) saw the Pacers ripping through the fleet downwind reaching speeds above 16 knots and providing some spectacular broaches for those seeking visual thrills. The only non Pacer that could keep up was the Farrier trimaran.
The weather was exceptionally good for the first two days, whereafter it faded completely not allowing any additional races for the entire weekend – a first in the last six years that DAC have had no racing during this annual event on any given day. No-one really complained as the first two days were simply fantastic for keelboat racing.
Amongst the crews were some very good sailors, many who have sailed at world championship level. On Felix the cat, a number of World Class Hobie sailors were to be seen including Blaine Dodds, William Edwards and Allan Lawrence who steered. Sailmakers from Hyde and North were dotted amongst the other Pacers. There was no question as to how tough the competition was going to be. It would be a tough event to win for sure.
With a moderate northerly forecast, the fleet set off for the middle of the dam on Heritage day (Sep 24th) to commence racing. The format was a simple windward/leeward course with an offset mark to port of the windward mark to help clear the fleet away from the usually congested weather mark. There were four separate starts for the Pacers, Gold, Silver and Cruising fleets each separated by a five minute gap. Race one got underway with an individual recall in the Pacer fleet with the errant party returning to restart correctly. The course was short with a middle of the course start/finish line to facilitate rapid race restarts with the Pacer and Gold fleet boats having to complete three laps with the smaller boats doing only two laps. Notwithstanding the short courses, it provided for a huge amount of action in the Pacer fleet, which would end up completing the downwind legs in only three minutes.
This left many of the crews questioning their lack of fitness at the end of the first day’s racing. Going up the first beat it was Regent Express and Pacer 3 reaching the weather mark first. Just before the weather mark Pacer 3 caught ‘Felix the cat’ port/starboard. Felix tacked in front of Pacer 3 and a collision occurred with Pacer 3’s bowsprit which was already extended. This incident would become an issue throughout the regatta and was only resolved after the main prize giving was completed. This was a pity, as the niggle between the two boats continued for the entire regatta. Neither boat retired nor did a penalty. Pacer 3 protested and hurriedly hoisted a red T-Shirt in place of a protest flag.
That evening the protest between Pacer 3 and Felix the cat was heard. During the validation procedure Felix the cat objected that Pacer 3’s protest flag had not been conventional (too big). On that basis the protest was disallowed (which raised many an eyebrow). Pacer 3 then withdrew their protest but they were very unhappy about the protest committee’s decision and thought it to not to be in the spirit of the sport. After discussing the incident and looking up the rules governing protest flags, no clear rule could be found as to whether there was any limitation on the size of a protest flag. The youngsters on Pacer 3 decided to request for the hearing to be re-opened the following day.
We awoke to a steady northerly and a positive forecast for the day where the breeze would peak at a 32 knot gust. And who said there is no real wind on the Vaal?
After racing Pacer 3’s request to reopen the protest hearing was denied on the grounds that it had been withdrawn by them the previous day, so there was technically no protest to reopen. This made the youngsters very unhappy and the situation was starting to get uncomfortable. It was clear to most of the skippers and crews that the original protest hearing had been somewhat flawed and probably unfair.
That night the party animals were in full swing again as a discotheque belted out a mix of old favourites and modern hip hop, but oh man we were so bushed that sleep overwhelmed us by 10pm. The noise from the clubhouse woke us and most of the competitors camping there at 1.30am. A power outage would surely solve the problem? And so it was that the main power mysteriously tripped a short while later, which killed the party despite vigorous attempts at reviving it. The next night there was a big padlock on the power box. Say no more!
The morning dawned in it’s usual pattern with a flock of rowdy Ibis “hah de dahing” in the trees above our tents at 0600. There was an air of anticipation as the fleet headed out towards Beacon Island which, with the dam at 94% capacity, was nothing more than a simple trig beacon sticking out the water in an unexpected place. The dam was nothing at all like the previous two days. The organisers must have known that this would be the case as each boat had been issued with a large volume water canon. After an hour’s wait for the non existent breeze to fill in, the crews soon got the water canons employed and a huge water fight ensued which included the bridge boat getting doused. Not to be outgunned, large capacity buckets were hauled on deck in lieu of heavy artillery.
Later that day Pacer 3 initiated their third attempt at re-opening their protest hearing against Felix the cat. The problem had been festering from day one and just wouldn’t go away. For the third time their appeal was declined by the local protest committee. By that stage Andrea and his team of young crew were feeling highly frustrated and the failed protest had become unpleasant for everyone in the Pacer class. It was probably also affecting their on the water performance. Andrea refused to give up as a matter of principle and continued to seek advice from senior officials and sailors. Once the appeal was declined for the third time, the only option left open was for a witnessing competitor to lodge a protest as no penalty turns were done and one of the boats would have to be disqualified. This was done on Sunday morning the 27th September by Unruly who had been a witness to the incident.
The following day was a repeat of the previous day with hot, breathless conditions on the Vaal. Some of the boats rafted up for a bit of socialising as the long wait for breeze continued, followed shortly by round two of the water canon wars. By noon race officer, Trevor Hulleman, called it off and sent the fleet back to moorings. The regatta was over and all competitors had one discard.
Whilst the boats were being hauled out in preparation for the long journey home, the protest lodged by Unruly against Felix the cat and Pacer 3, was heard. This time by a fresh protest committee consisting of some of the most experienced legal sailing brains in the region.
Prize giving commenced at 15h30 sharp as the audience were informed that the Pacer results could not be announced due to a protest being in session. By the end of the lengthy prize giving, the protest was still under way. The crowd dispersed leaving only the rest of the Pacer crews in attendance. This was not only a pity, but somewhat of an anti-climax and detracted from what should have been a pleasant moment for the winning teams. Eventually the result of the protest was announced, which was that Felix the cat was disqualified in Race 1. Up till that point they had been the clear regatta leaders, but now the results were expected to change the standings. As things turned out, the first four boats all ended on 10 points after a single discard. Closer than that, one could not get.
Felix the cat and Regent Express had a dead tie for 1st overall with both boats having a scoreline of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, but in such a tie the boat with the better result in the final race wins the tiebreaker. Felix the cat had a 3rd versus Regent Express’s 4th (where they broke their jib halyard). Pacer 3 took the 3rd spot.
The next nationals is scheduled to be held offshore Cape Town. – Trygve Roberts.