Welcome to this Brisbane to Keppel Yacht Race edition of Southern Cross Yachting Enews.

This year’s race was the hardest yet and, despite a sterling performance by Team Southern Cross, sadly there was no trip to the podium for us this year. Race day dawned clear and sunny with a forecast tailor-made for a Sydney 41. We were well prepared and relaxed 2 hours from the start and getting ready to slip the lines and head out to the start when the phone rang. The dog had escaped at home. All semblance of order went out the window. I think I hit 100 k’s along the esplanade and as I screeched to a halt at home, the dog was sitting in the garage, pleased as punch with its latest little adventure.

So whilst the other crews were checking the line, looking at the breeze and working out which sail to use at the start, I was nailing bits of wood over a hole in the fence and having chest pains. A quick test of my repair, a pat on the head for the dog, and we were motoring out to the start with an hour to go to the gun. With the breeze light from the north we decided on a pin end start with only Patriot and Wild Oats 11 thinking the same way. We were right on the line when the gun went with only Patriot crossing the line ahead of us. Yes we had established a commanding 50 foot lead over Wild Oats, one that we hoped to hold to the finish. So as we trimmed in the light conditions, the sky went dark, the wind stopped and all 100 feet of WO11 rolled over the top of us. At least it didn’t take long. The noise these boats make is astounding. The groan as they ease sheets, the whirring of the hydraulics and electric winches and the unworldly horror of the creaking of carbon fibre is amazing. I wonder how they ever sleep, but remembered that they are rarely out there long enough to need much rack time. If my boat made those noises when tacking I would go and sit in the life raft.

The north-northeaster filled in as predicted and freshened as the afternoon wore on. By 1500 we were hard on the wind, with a full main and number 3, having a ding dong battle with both the J120 Ragtime and the first 40 Mayfair. This kept going all the way out of the bay. A long night of tacking and headsail changes and our tactic of being the most western boat in on the beach worked well and we were 3rd overall at the morning sked. We spent some time patting ourselves on the back about passing Patriot during the night only to find out they had put into Mooloolaba to drop off an injured crewmember. Friday was spent short tacking along the top of Fraser and out on Breaksea Spit with Patriot and ourselves playing ‘Who will go the furthest into the breakers?’. Our strategy was further complicated by the pack (herd? flotilla?) of whales we were amongst. I have never seen them as thick as they make their way north to lay their eggs or whatever it is they do. Patriot’s superior speed got her past us before we rounded Breaksea Light and we had Ragtime, Mayfair and the Farr 36 Georgia Express in our wake. Close hauled on starboard tack kept us just below the rhumb line to Cape Capricorn as we waited for the southerly. We broke our first halyard about 2am letting Ragtime through. At about 3.30am, one of the crew woke me and asked me ‘if I would like to come up and have a look at this’. His tone leant itself more to inviting someone to look at your holiday snaps, rather than the ominous black cold-front that greeted me.

Within 10 minutes we were on the other tack with 25 knots just forward of the beam, keeping us all under headsails until dawn, when the wind lightened and backed, and we got the ‘aso’ up, followed shortly after by the reaching spinnaker. We all looked forward to a leisurely day of ‘kiting’ with an ETA to the finish before sunset and a third or fourth in division looking good…. what could possibly go wrong? I will bloody well tell you what. Firstly, we stripped the cover of our second (and last spinnaker) halyard. Next we passed Cape Capricorn and gave our ETA to the finish as 1812. The wind kept going further behind and lighter as we peeled to the ½ ounce. The halyards had let Georgia Express get closer and we decided to gybe and cover her and get out of the tide. What we hadn’t allowed for was the invisible crew member ‘Murphy’ lurking on both the foredeck and cockpit (I naturally was simply brilliant on the helm, so it couldn’t have been my fault!). The resulting kite wrap was one of the finest I have ever seen. As this unfolded, Georgia Express, with our sail maker ‘Ox’ on-board, got past and Ox sent me a text asking if I would like a quote on a new kite. No shortage of comedians in sailing!

Sorting this out was a major issue and full dues to the crew, led by bowman Warwick, for unwrapping and retrieving our only remaining halyard. This cost us about an hour, so up went the kite as we sailed to protect our now 6th place in division. The wind just kept lightening and as we closed the finish line (with the usual confusion finding it against the Las Vegas-like lights of Yeppoon in the background).

With two miles to go the wind dropped below 4 knots and our speed to 2 knots, and it took an hour to sail those last two miles. All this time we were torn between deep concentration and looking over our shoulders at Mayfair catching us very quickly. When they got to within 100 metres of our stern, I stopped looking but could hear them talking (and laughing I might add) right behind us. Finally we crossed the line about 20 seconds in front of them and I started breathing again for the first time in 5 mins. 6th in Div 2 Orci and 10th overall out of 34 in PHS was a good result considering all the drama. Even with the great close racing, going up wind for 40 hours is very hard work and congratulations to the entire crew, including Matt, Craig and Carel, all doing their first offshore race, and Ben (crew member and the ships photographer!) returning for his 2nd Keppel Race. A huge congratulations to the crew of Ragtime for their overall win on IRC and a special mention to the Taswegians on the Beneteau 45 Audere. Not only did they come a long way to do our race, the area in front of the podium will have to be re-turfed as they wore a track in it getting all their pickle dishes. And as always, to race director Dennis Thomson and all the volunteers, thank you again for an outstanding event. Speaking of outstanding, this winter weather is just about perfect out on the bay and we have plenty of spaces available on our weekend courses and don’t forget the $210 saving by booking three weekends. You can choose the dates that suit you to do these.

That’s all for this edition, now it’s time for a good night’s sleep, then off to Yeppoon to get the boat. One day I will do a race that ends in Brisbane! Cheers Mike Job