After 50 years of yacht racing and at times at the highest level I still get butterflies in my gut as I drive to the boat on a race day. The unknown in a high speed machine on the open ocean… This is one of the things in life that gives me perspective and keeps my mind active at the age of 63. The core group on the boat is my mate Paul who through thick and thin hangs in there and like me gets nervous before the start of any race. The always hunted third person that makes up a team for us is always a challenge in an area that doesn’t have a lot of choice. So the attitude is HAVE FUN and don’t die! We are always first to finish by miles in our area and when we get lucky we correct out to spoil the party.
One of our big races we do every year is the Route 66 from Auckland to Whangarei. It’s of course 66 miles long. Our boat is a NACRA 36. Designed in 1978 and built in 1979. It is the second and only remaining boat out of ten made. Hence the boat name 2 of 10 somewhat like a Borg/Star Trek designation.. Yea what was I smokin! The boat is optimized for 10 to 15kts wind and when it blows 20 + you better be on your game. This thing cracks along in fifteen knots of wind at 20 to 25kts boat speed: fast and wet so going offshore you better have you shit together.
All boat races take preparation but offshore races take a bit more of everything. Everything double checked and last but not least are the conditions going to give us a fright or not? This year’s edition of the Route 66 was a pretty broad spectrum of boats including 9 multis. The rest were all leaners.
The start is deep in the Auckland Harbor almost directly under the Nippon Clip-on, otherwise known as the Harbor Bridge. The conditions were perfect for us, 10 to 12kts wind, smooth water and straight upwind for about 5 miles to the turning mark at the harbor entrance to head north. At this point we crack the sheets and start saying adios to the boats that started before us as we FLY past. Man this thing loves eased sheets! 10kts of wind, 15kts steady boat speed and to our next mark of the course Kawau Island. About 20 miles in we’ve passed everyone and leave them wondering what the heck that boat was and probably feeling a little violated for the coveted first to finish trophy.
As we were approaching Kawau Island the wind was steadily building up to 18 to 20. Now we were really rippin. A blur of smoke coming off the leeward hull and two powerboat wakes behind us hitting mid 20’s and a high speed of 31.2. Steady flow ridin almost ludicrous speed! This is a gear not many other boats have. We were making time and wondering how much of a calendar we would have to chew up before the next boat finished. Behind us was a 42 ft cat named Slime. It’s a very daunting looking cat that I feel is probably the second fastest boat in New Zealand behind the ORMA 60 Frank Racing.
When Slime showed up at the start line I was thinking we would be lucky to finish second boat for boat but we were holding them off just fine in the steady 15 to 20kt winds. As most of us know yacht racing is not all a simple cut and dried affair and to prove a point, forty miles in the wind died down to 0 and we were hung up in a hole with the fleeting pressure from behind. It wasn’t long before the boats behind caught up and our nemesis Slime sailed literally right up to us within spitting distance and with a magic puff just went ever so gentle by us. Nice greetings were exchanged but I was thinking damn time to put some of that lifetime of So Cal light air racing skill that I acquired to good use. Head down, ass up as we say here for hard work. The next lucky puff came to us and we sailed back past them. How does that taste (I was thinking)? They were definitely trying to out money us with a myriad of sail changes and sails; this sail, that sail, everything in between. It didn’t work as we pulled away with our code zero, the only other sail we have besides our jib.
We couldn’t believe our boat speed. We steadily pulled away leaving our friends fighting off a brand new 60+ foot leaner for a second place finish. As we were closing in on the finish I remember this race is like the Cabo Race where the finish is under some tall cliffy mountains that shut the wind down and you drift across. It ain’t over till it’s over. Been there, been beaten at that game before. Sail conservative. Hope for the best and stay between the finish and your competitors and it’s always good to have a lucky horse shoe up your ass as well. It worked. We were first to finish for the second time out of three Route 66’s. The next boat finished 30 or so minutes behind us. We couldn’t tell who it was as we don’t usually hang around and wait. This time we also corrected out. A rarity but pretty cool when you get it. Kiss the dock and let another party start.
I don’t know how much I have left in me collecting pickle dishes. I have cared in the past when I was younger but now I really don’t give it a second thought. I find I feel embarrassed when receiving another bowling trophy with a sailboat screwed to the top. I only care now because for me it’s about the journey. There is a good feeling with a win, no doubt, but a good race is always a good race and this one was very good. This ranks right up there with the first tier wins we have on 2 of 10, a true good feeling of hard work and a noticed attaboy win for the old boat and an even older crew.
Cheers to Paul Adamson and Mark Simmonds for putting up with me and taking that leap of faith that all will go well and we won’t die! Of course there is a thread…