The 221 nautical mile Automasters – Redink Homes Fremantle To Geraldton Ocean Race last weekend has seen an extraordinary performance from the Bakewell White 37 General Lee and her crew of Paul Eldrid, Scott Disley, Billy Leonard, Paul Nevard, Rees Howell, Ant Little, Brett Sharpe, Graeme Robbins and David Ward. The General took line honors in a race record time for a conventionally ballasted boat of 18h18m33s, winning both handicap system results ( IRC and YAH), and clocking a fastest speed of 29.3 knots during the early hours of Saturday morning.
The General’s race began with an upwind course around the west end of Rottnest Island which saw the larger yachts slowly opening up a lead on them. Around Rottnest Island spinnakers went up and the Southwest Breeze continued to build through till sunset. Throughout Friday afternoon and evening, with the fleet on port gybe and heading north west and moving offshore, the key tactical call was going to be when the expected south easterly switch would occur and if the increase from around 20 knots to the expected 35 knots would happen. Slowly the wind direction changed and increased as the little General caught and passed many of the bigger boats, cleverly positioning herself, along with Tony Mitchell’s Sled, further offshore from their competitors. As the bigger boats gybed, pre-positioning for the wind change and expecting to be able to run deeper down the rumbline, General Lee delayed their gybe until they were west of Geraldton’s line of longitude.
Approaching 10.30pm, with the breeze now over 30 knots from the south east, navigator Scott Disley made the call, and with Eldrid wringing the boats neck with an A3 asymmetrical kite in wind conditions right at the top of its design range, put the team on starboard gybe, now steering a hot angle straight at Geraldton with 110 nautical miles to go. The next few hours for this crew will be something they won’t forget in a hurry. With the breeze now over 35 knots the A7 Laminate went up and at 140 TWA, gusts of up to 37 knots and a large swell white water was everywhere, spray peppered the crew and the General was way offshore, at night, going flat out – all contributing to the sheer exhilaration.
With the breeze moderating under 30 knots into dawn (and the team disappointed there was no infrared night camera!) the A7 was changed to the A2. Due to the trackers failing the morning radio sched couldn’t come soon enough as the crew of the General Lee scoured the horizon for silhouettes of their competitors. Only two could be seen. As dawn broke and with Geraldton on the horizon, the 5.20am radio report revealed the rewards of the hair raising night and hard work this team had put themselves through. They were well in front of their rivals, more than an hour ahead of the race record for conventionally ballasted boats, and only minutes behind the record of the Volvo 60 Elle Racing, set in 1996 in a water ballasted ocean thoroughbred some 23 foot bigger than General Lee. The cheer from the crew as they finished at 7.48am was heard across Geraldton harbour!
Check out the hauling ass sessions in this vid…
Report by Uncle Jesse
Top image by Bernie Kaaks