During the latter part of the week we were struggling to get together a crew for the next long race on 4th of Feb. Saturdays hold a host of activities and attractions for our younger crew – from soccer, to high tea, to crewing on opposition boats (oooh!)! So, we were down to the bare minimum for a long spinnaker race – just Derek and I, Rohan and Andrew, whom we just managed to tear away from his weekend work building lifts, though he did bring along a pen and paper to work on some design issues during the slow bits.
We were ready at the start line, with the spinnaker lines run out and the bag on the fore-deck in readiness, sunscreen slathered liberally on exposed skin, drink bottles to hand and the all important lolly tub (also known as ‘morale’) replenished. The sun beat down as the temperature climbed towards the mid-twenties. We enjoyed the stunning view of Hobart’s beautiful setting from the water.
The first boats to start were sent on a course to Variety Bay – I’d never heard of it, but being on the outside coastline of north Bruny Island I haven’t been there often. On the map it looked like a long way. We were the second division to start, and our course was ‘O’: in to Ralphs Bay, across the river to Piersons Point and back home.
The wind was north to north-westerly, so behind us for the first leg. This meant we could hoist the spinnaker and run downwind straight for Tranmere – no tacking hard into the wind. This was a relief with just four of us on board, but the trickiest parts would be setting, dropping and gybing the spinnaker, so we went across the line with the mainsail eased out and the jib billowing out to catch the breeze. Other boats around us hoisted their spinnakers at the line, but we headed out a little to get some clear air before hoisting ours. The wind was kind, blowing steadily at around 12 knots, and soon we were in the groove on our way to Tranmere with plenty of boats around us.
Thanks to Nick for this image of the Clew, taken from on board Lock on Wood. (Congrats to them – they sailed an awesome race and took out first place!) After this, however, it wasn’t all plain sailing – we did have to gybe at least 8 or 9 times on the way, which kept the four of us very busy.
The faster division one boats started five minutes after us and were given a course to Ralphs Bay then Blackjack Rocks and back, so they gradually caught us up and it was very busy around the Ralphs Bay mark.
From here things got interesting – fortunately for us the wind didn’t get too strong, but it did become quite light and fickle. Here, around the very mouth of the Derwent River we would usually expect a south-easterly sea breeze to come in soon after noon on a hot Tasmanian summer day, however, today the forecast was for south-westerly winds later in the day. For the beginning of this leg the wind was still quite northerly so we all continued with our spinnakers trying to cover as much water as we could with the wind behind us. Most boats in our division headed straight across the river towards Piersons Point, others followed the division one boats along the shore of South Arm on the eastern side, while a few headed west toward Blackmans Bay to find a breeze on this side. At this stage it’s often more a case of luck than tactics, and we spent the next couple of hours avidly watching the water for signs of the wind’s behaviour – and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in the middle of a pod of dolphins.
For the next couple of hours we played a cat and mouse game with the other yachts – catching up, getting left behind, sneaking past, only to watch the others catch the breeze and get away again. We don’t call Piersons Point Dodgy Point for nothing. Here’s where the breezes all meet – the northerly funneled down the Derwent, the southerly from Storm Bay, the south-westerly funneled up the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and sometimes an Easterly from around the corner of South Arm. And this is where sailing can become the slowest form of racing. Andrew pulled out his pen and paper. Rohan got a sore neck from craning up at the top edge of the spinnaker and constantly trimming. We all reapplied the sunscreen, then I put on the coffee pot and we all pulled out our lunch.
I recently attended a book launch for A Little Book of Slow by Sally Wise and Paul McIntyre – all about the slow way of living: cooking and making things from scratch, contemplative pastimes. Sailing wasn’t in it, but I vote it could well be included. There is something rewarding about being in tune with the wind and the sea. You learn valuable patience when you are forced to go with the rhythms of nature.
A change did come in, just before we reached the mark, so it was a slow and frustrating rounding after which we found ourselves well towards the back of the fleet. So the wind was behind us again for the trip home and we hoisted the spinnaker again. It’s not often you get the wind behind both ways! Coming back the wind was light and variable, so the spinnaker went up and down a few times, keeping us all busy.
Nearing the finish we came upon various fleets of little yachts and had to avoid interfering with their races. Lovely to see so many people enjoying the river under sail.
We reached home pleasantly tired and recharged with vitamin D and fresh air. We were second-last over the line but ninth on corrected time. Not a bad result for such a small crew on a big slow boat!