the tide waits…
In our part of the world, knowing what you are doing on major public holidays is easy. From onboard the 1986 IOR goodie, Trumpcard.
The Gladstone Race is 308 miles long where the first 50 miles sees the yachts race out of Moreton Bay to Caloundra before sailing the 150 mile leg to the iconic Breaksea Spit at the northern edge of Fraser Island. The last 100 miles of the course takes in Lady Elliot Island some thirty miles from Breaksea Spit and “the Paddock”. The Paddock is usually more runway than race course, and is almost seventy miles of beam reaching in anything from 25-35 knots of breeze with short 3-4 metre sea. However the last 15 miles of the race is up Gladstone Harbour which is not particularly wide and has a 5m tidal range.
Usually the Gladstone Race is a downwind surf-fest as high pressure systems moving across southern Australia form a ridge along the Queensland coast and save for getting out of Moreton Bay it is just a case of hitting the south easterly breeze and pulling the pole back for the next 200 miles. You don’t have to be smart just fast. Given the reliable conditions many boats are optimized just for this race.
This year, the modified Farr30 Immigrant was a good example. Now Immigrant lives Gladstone where it is the only Farr 30 for a few hundred miles so the owner has cleverly optimised it for the race, like a 1.5 bow carbon sprit and 110m2 spinnakers optimized. (search “Immigrant and Farr 30” on Youtube.com) What is the old saying,” a tradesman never blames his tools but a good tradesman has the right tool for the job”. So, you get the picture why this race is not like Hobart.
As Easter was late this year, much angst was experienced by owners and crews as due to the raging La Nina weather pattern, autumn had come a bit early and the usual south easterlies did not look like settling in as usual for race day. The highs where not moving across as usual and the ridge was not forming and a light upwind race looked likely.
Did I say that the air temperature is in the low to mid 20’ C and the water temperature anything from 23’ to 26’ C?
The start as usual with the line set to the course not the wind angle was just plain dangerous with the eastern end having about a 40 degree bias, so we started a third of the way down in clear air with several Farr 40s down off our bow but happy to straight line and not come up. (thanks for that Hicko). The same could not be said for the GP 42 which forced its way up over our stern and then sat on us before reaching down over us. (guys you are in a GP 42 we are in an old slow timber boat, what were we a threat?) So we got spat out a bit from that so by the first rounding mark we were not that flash being in the middle of the 40 footers and our usual competition of the Bene 44.7s and older IMS boats a bit ahead, but we had a plan!
Like all plans, a plan is no good with conviction and the dilemma here was go the gradient breeze or go the convectional sea breeze. A simple left or right up the 15 mile second leg. In our case we had plenty of conviction and bet hard on the gradient breeze winning over the weak sea breeze. After over three hours of 3-6 knots of breeze moving through big angles, it turned out we had chosen wisely.
Not that I am petty or anything it was pleasing that almost 4 hours after the start the previously mentioned GP 42 crossed behind us after limping from the left hand side of the course, but of course they tacked right on top of us…
So we were back in good shape for a bit, however a little further along at the next mark the gradient breeze and sea breeze and not sorted things out yet and so after getting caught on the left we lost about half of what we had gained over the last few hours.
By dark we were out of Moreton Bay and facing the next big decision, namely do you go left to the cold air drainage and sail along the beach or right and to sea towards the gradient breeze which would eventually come in.
The weather information was saying go with the gradient breeze and so most of the fleet like sheep followed the weather models. This was lucky for us. Having grown up surfing sailing and diving around Caloundra and as always suspicious of weather models and information at the very local level, I took a big breath in of vehicle emissions, wood fire smoke and dust and went to the land. The rest of the night was spent tight reaching along the Sunshine Coast beaches in a light westerly. A few times we doubted the logic when we could not get low enough to get around Noosa Headland but in the end we always got away with it. The boats to sea were not doing too badly however.
Daybreak is always the moment of truth and Saturday morning saw us at Double Island point in the company of a well sailed Inglis 37 with the large group of boats to sea and slightly ahead. For what we could tell this group included the 44.7s, A40 RC, Murray 42, ML39, Mumm 36 and at least one Farr 30. By now the forecast 15- 20 knot south easterly had filed through the south west so we had gybed but were now also the most leeward boat by some miles as we began the 100 mile leg to Breaksea Spit. Just a glorious day of yachting was then had by all, 15-20 knots, sunshine and a low swell as we raced along the spectacular Fraser Island beaches to Indian Head.
The best part was we held the boats around us including the Mumm 36 and the Farr 30s perhaps losing two miles to the first Farr 30 all day. We made Breaksea Spit just after dark as the ridge strengthened as forecast and the wind build to 30 knots from the south east.
The 30 odd mile leg to Lady Elliott island became a dead square affair with the still easterly swell making driving interesting to say the least when driving deep with a port pole and the waves getting under the starboard side of the transom in 30 knots true,but there was good surfing to be had and after a few loose gybes we got well clear of the island and into the Paddock.
So far we had sailed fairly smart and had not had any stuff ups and the evening sked was good news as the little boats had dropped off the back on IRC and the Farr 40s and GP 42 were only just starting to go out ahead as the wind increased. However we did expect to say up in the rankings the Paddock would seriously expose our weakness surfing against the newer boats and the Farr 30s. All we could do was “lock and load” then blast at S2 being the mark at the start of Gladstone harbour some 65 miles away.
So in line with the best traditions we put up the full size 1.5oz AP and with someone riding shotgun on the tiller just sent it hoping to not lose too much time to the Farr 30s and the Mumm 36.
For the Gladstone Race we only sail 6 up but that also means no one gets the play navigator so by Bustard Head we know we are in good shape but don’t know how good.
What we did know it that it is high tide a 0152 and that tide is 3.6 metres and we would get to S2 at about 0415hrs. This was bad, very bad, like an average of two knots of tide against you bad!
At this stage the three big boats, Lahana, Black Jack and Hooligan had all finished hours or days ago, the Farr 40s and GP 42 were not far enough ahead on the last sked and we were still hanging tough against the Farr 30s, Mumm 36 and A40 RC.
At Bustard Head thirty miles from the finish, the Race Media reported that Immigrant and us are first and second but only 53 seconds apart on IRC.Hooligan was next but had finished
By S2 we were in lots of trouble as the tide was belting out, but at least the breeze was southerly at 20 knots true so we held good speed through the water if not over the ground to the finish. The last few miles got difficult because of the lee created by the shipping wharves and loading facilities and the breeze drops to 5 knots in the lee but as we come around the last corner we saw the second Farr 30 just crossing the line, so Immigrant could not have been far way.
In the end the tide beats us and Immigrant.
We needed to be about 40 seconds faster the beat Immigrant and 19 minutes faster to displace Hooligan as the big boats end up 1,2 and 3 on IRC with Immigrant 4th and Trumpcard 5th. How many days to Boxing Day? – Craig Coulson.