generally good

on board

generally good

The boys from Evolution Sails give us the skinny on the first distance race on the new Bakewell-White 36′, the General.

We have all seen the brochure before – a
downwind sleigh ride in the trade winds,
shirts off, surfing waves, grins from ear to
ear and ending up in a tropical paradise.
Perfect! Auckland to Fiji race here we
come! With the boat launched only weeks
prior to the race we set about clocking as
many miles up as possible to learn as much
as we could about the boat and to give
time for tuning. We did 200 miles in the
weekend the boat was launched in some
testing conditions, then Scott Beavis
(project manager) set about the task of
race preparing the boat including
provisioning, spares and safety. He did a
fantastic job and the boat hit the start line immaculately prepared. His Volvo Ocean Race experience really
shone through here.
The team for the Fiji Race was
Scott Disley, Paul Eldrid, Rodney
Keenan, Scott Beavis, Simon
Minoprio, Martin Hannon, and
Hayden Goodrick. Being a small
boat with a small team, there
was always a cross pollination of
roles to be filled on the boat.
We all just did what was
required to keep it rumbling.
Scott Disley had the hardest
task as dedicated navigator– such a big race in a little boat is
a big task. All of us have been
involved in many programs in
the past with the latest being
Limit. Through many of these
programs we have all become
very good friends over the last 10 years or so, and when the opportunity came up to sail together for the Fiji
race everyone jumped at it.

The forecast was all doom and gloom
initially. It really looked like a carbon copy
from the Auckland to Noumea Race last
year which we did on Limit. With this still
fresh in our minds we were apprehensive
about taking on such an intense low in a
small boat. Especially as we had minimal
break in time, which is why we proceeded
with caution. The forecast was for winds
up to 55 knots with 20+ seas, backing west
after the low and blowing up to 45+.
Again, even though we would be
downwind, 45+ knots in huge seas in a
little boat is dangerous. After 3 days the
forecast had the breeze easing up, and
eventually dying to nothing, before filling
from the North and backing again to the
west as two Highs approached Fiji. Still the
question remained – could we survive the

The morning of the race the
forecast had eased a little to a 45
knot maximum. Our plan was to
start the race and re-asses the
low as we raced north. We
figured we could monitor the
system and make a better
decision in this time, as forecasts
were changing so dramatically. If
it looked like it would sustain
over 40 on the nose for over 24
hours we would pull into the Bay
of Islands and consolidate from
there. If it looked better, we
would take it on. The key was
risk management and always
having an exit plan without
jeopardising the safety of the
team or the boat.
We ended up running out of Auckland in a gentle southerly. At about out exit strategy point just past the Bay of
Islands the breeze had gone to the North and increased. The latest GRIB files showed a maximum of 35 – 40
knots. At this point the seas were choppy but not rough and the wind was 25 – 30. With not as much West as
anticipated we were making pretty good VMG on Fiji, and the boat was relishing the conditions with 1 reef and a
J4. We decided to press on.

As the conditions deteriorated and the seas got
to 4– 6m we re-configured the boat to two
reefs and the J4, then the Storm Jib when it got
to 35 gusting 40. Still the boat behaved well
and kept chugging along. With each position
schedule we were buoyed by just how well we
were hanging in there. The boat exceeded our
expectations. Knowing we were going into a
pretty intense low pressure system at the worst
possible time we were concerned at being such
a small, light boat. To our amazement the boat
hung in with much larger rivals and extended on
the 40 footers – all whilst sailing upwind in 30+.
Davey Norris Boat builders did a fantastic job– this boat is solid and between Brett Bakewell
White and Davie Norris, the boat is very well
thought out and one of the driest offshore boats we have raced.
After the breeze backed on the other side of the
low it was obvious the fleet would not see
extreme running conditions and that the system
would not be with us for long. We pushed hard
here utilising the 20 – 25 knots we had and from
6am to 6pm that day covered over 200 miles,
then the following 12 hours another 130 miles or
so as the breeze started to back off….then
eventually shut completely down.

From here the
race got totally weird and nearly every forecast
and grib file was completely wrong. Sensing this,
we tried to keep the boat on the making board as
much as possible while looking for telltale signs
of the real time breeze and forecast breeze
aligning. We spend considerable time flip/
flopping with a wind-seeker, then on the wind
with a jib, then Code Zero and back and forth for days.
We did eventually get the not forecasted SE Trades as
they tried to re-establish in the aftermath of the low.
Still the Grib files and forecasts called for breeze from
the West. As it became apparent they were in to
stay, then they magically appeared on the grib files
some 6 hours later! The upside to this was knowing
that we could keep our corrected time on the boats in
front of us, some of whom had already finished. The
down side was knowing that the boats behind would
have been in this breeze for a while and would
continue to “point and shoot” at the finish faster and
faster as it built from behind. We raced extremely
hard through the last night knowing that every
minute counted….and in the end it did, just not in our
favour by just minutes, after 8 days at sea! Kudos to
Bird on a Wing – they sailed a great race and a deserved win on IRC.