From designer Rob Shaw onboard the Shaw 30 Karma Police
Resting up in Wellington after a pretty rugged four days on the wind on the second leg of the SSANZ Round the North Island two-handed race. So much for a blast reach down the west coast: we got headed at every corner and were on the wind the whole time except for an eight-hour two-sail down the Taranaki coast, before the wind dropped out completely…then came back with a vengeance at 35 knots from the southeast, so back on the wind again through Cook Strait and into Wellington.
We started the leg in glassy conditions in Doubtless Bay off Mangonui on the Tuesday. We picked up a sea breeze in the afternoon and tacked up to North Cape, hoping to crack off as we headed across to Cape Reinga, but the wind clocked left and we were hard on the wind again in around 10 knots as night fell. Once around Cape Reinga the wind started to build and turn to the southeast so…back on the wind. We decided to carry on on port board to about 150 miles offshore, as the forecast was for a change to southwest, then tacked back as the breeze went south in the hope that we would get lifted as we went down the coast. The breeze got up to 15-20 knots but a bigger issue was the seas — big confused swells coming both from the north (generated by Tropical Cyclone Atu) and the south. A lot of the waves had no backs, so you never knew if you were going to surf down the other side or just drop down and slam into the next one. Waves would wash across the boat and open the clutch holding up the windward daggerboard, so we would have to scramble to rehoist it half a dozen times.
We spent all day and night on Wednesday on starboard tack with the wind building to 30 knots, but the southwest came later than we had hoped for so we ended up having to tack out around New Plymouth. This meant a big gain for the boats behind us as they were able to get past Cape Egmont without tacking. One of our john buoys got wiped off the windward rail by a breaking wave and spontaneously deployed, inflating in our wake.
Finally we got some reaching in, with eight hours under code zero off the south Taranaki coast, but after some time becalmed in the late afternoon, just on dark the wind was back – 35 knots right on the nose just as we were coming in to Cook Strait. We started changing down from number 1 jib and full main down to storm jib and two reefs over a two-hour period and hunkered down for a long night. It was so wet on the boat we couldn’t tell if it was raining but the temperature definitely dropped as the front tore through.
At dawn we could see Wellington Heads in the distance, with about 30 more miles to go, dead upwind. When I asked for the weather forecast for Cook Strait at the morning sched, the radio operator said “Gale force southeasterly, rough seas” so I knew we were in the right place.
Coming into Wellington Harbour on Saturday morning was a great feeling as we were finally able to run under storm jib, then gybe and reach across to the finish off the Port Nicholson Yacht Club. We felt a bit conspicuous being so heavily reefed as the Port Nich fleet went out for their regular Saturday race under full sail — they breed them tough in Wellington. The Port Nich volunteers guided us in to Chaffers Marina and it was well and truly time for a beer and a pie, a shower, shave and a sleep and to catch up with family and friends.
We were really pleased to have suffered very little damage apart from giving the main a bit of a flog, and the custom carbon gimbal on the Jetboil personal cooker worked a treat, so we were able to have at least one hot freeze-dried meal a day, which really made a difference keeping our energy and our spirits up.
It took another two days for the rest of the fleet to make it in — lots of people went into New Plymouth and the Marlborough Sounds for shelter then came into Wellington the next day. One of the hardest things was not knowing where our competition was — after going around Cape Reinga we didn’t see another boat the whole time, and because we were reporting in by sat phone we couldn’t hear the other boats’ positions at the daily scheds. . Akatea and M1 both sailed a great leg and finished before the bad weather came in on Friday night, but we were pleased and surprised to cross the line fourth, ahead of some much bigger boats. We were a bit shocked to hear about the damage to some of the other boats — two boats haddismasted, and a couple of yachts had hit whales coming down the west coast — but everyone is OK and already the bad memories are fading and we are looking forward to the next leg