up, down, and up again

Rob Shaw takes you aboard the Shaw 12 Blink as they doublehand their way around the North Island two-handed race. As an update, the boys smoked the fleet, winning the next leg by several hours…details to follow!

blink 2It’s taken a few days to recover from leg two of the Round North Island two-handed race – although it wasn’t anywhere near as long as the five-day slog from Mangonui to Wellington that we experienced in the 2011 race, but it was even more intense. It turned into a two and a half day drag-race down the west coast in worsening conditions, with the 35 foot Bushido breathing down our neck the whole way.

Despite the forecast for a downwind start and run up to North Cape, the leg start was delayed for half an hour because it was super light. In the end we got the code zero up after about half an hour to reach up North Cape, then laid across the top of the North Island in a building southwesterly and lumpy seas where the Tasman meets the Pacific Ocean at Pandora Banks.

Our weather information had suggested sailing well out to sea beyond Cape Reinga before tacking. As we headed out to sea we could see Bushido’s nav lights getting dimmer and dimmer behind us till they disappeared.

We tacked around 2am on the first night, heading properly towards Wellington for the first time, leading the fleet. We had no idea of it at the time but we had become the most westerly boat in the fleet, about 50 miles offshore. The forecast was for the wind to clock around through the west into the north and ease a little and as it slowly clocked around we had a nice cruise along under fractional code zero.

In hindsight we spent the latter part of day slightly underpowered, but we were spot on target to lay Cape Egmont. We were only ever just laying, and the breeze went much further into the north than we expected and we ended up having to sail high to keep our boat speed up. We ended up well offshore again and had to gybe back in to get around the cape.

We knew there was a gale warning for Cook Strait, and we set up for it a bit early (again, more hindsight). We were reaching in quite strong breeze, with the sea state increasing, with the fractional code zero on. For the first time since Cape Reinga we could see Bushido behind us and starting to catch us. As the breeze came aft we went to peel to the fractional gennaker and got it spectacularly twisted. By the time we got it sorted out they were past us.

By this time it was fully dark and we had lost sight of Bushido. We debated whether to put a reef in as we approached the entrance to Wellington Harbour. We decided to err on the side of caution and were glad we did; as we came around the corner we found ourselves on the wind in 30 knots tacking up the narrow harbour entrance.

We ended up finishing around an hour behind Bushido, exhausted after neither of us taking a break during the final day’s run.

It was a case of the rich getting richer: the next boats found themselves becalmed out in Cook Strait and finished nearly 12 hours later. This was similar to the 2011 race when the first two boats got in half a day ahead of the rest of the fleet ­– except last time the leaders got in in the light and everyone else got a kicking in a storm in the strait.

It was great to get a few days off in Blink’s home town before what is looking like a light to moderate upwind leg to Napier. The rest of the race looks to continue being just as intense so it has been good to have a break and catch up with family and friends before getting back on the boat.