Monday, 28 June 2010

Audi Winter Series: Conditions provide a fast ride for all

Robert Skol's Scarlett O'Hara, Winner Division D, Race 10, Audi Winter Series 2010. Image copyright ACE Marine Photography.

by Di Pearson

The 123 starters in today's Race 10 of the Audi Winter Series were blessed with a quick ride around their respective courses when an early sou-westerly breeze of 12 knots clocked left during the start and lifted to 15 knots, providing a fast ride around Sydney Harbour and a great deal of enjoyment for participants.

“We were about halfway through our start sequence when the breeze went to the west. At times there were squirts of 18 knots, but mainly it was around 15,” Principle Race Officer Denis Thompson said.

While the sun smiled down on the fleet early in the day, it was not long before a big cloud bank covered Sydney Harbour and with it, the warmth went out of the day. “It got freezing cold,” a competitor stated.

“It was a very fast race – and a straightforward one – except for Guy Stening’s Optimum, which I believe was on the receiving end of some damage after being involved in a collision,” Thompson told.

So while everyone else appears to have had a fast and fun ride back to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, which hosts the Audi Winter Series, Stening was forced to pull out when the collision caused his Melges 32 major damage.

“We’d dropped our kite and were rounding the Cannae Point mark and ended up head-to-wind. We lost steerage, so called to the boat behind us, which was trying to overtake us, but the yacht kept coming and hit us hard on our starboard aft quarter,” Stening told.

“The impact was so hard I fell on top of our mainsheet trimmer and the pushpit was ripped out of our boat. The damage was so severe we had to retire. I don’t know that we can repair in time for the last three races – we’ll have to wait and see,” said a still shocked Stening, who amongst his other sailing feats, won the Mumm 30 World Championship in 2008.

Steve Wyatt's Bavaria 35 Match Double Trouble, Winner Division F, Race 10, Audi Winter Series 2010. Image copyright ACE Marine Photography.

On a brighter note, there were some very happy people in the winners’ circle today, none more so than Division F winner, Steve Wyatt, the owner of Double Trouble, a Bavaria Match35. “We’re pretty happy,” he said.

“Usually we do half the Audi Winter Series and then we go skiing for the other half. This year, we decided to do the full series – and now we’re leading our division, but we’ll have to stay on alert, it’s not over yet and things can change rapidly,” Wyatt said.

“Leading the series with three races to go makes me feel a bit like the rabbit with the hounds chasing after us – we look around from time to time – then we keep going and hope we’ll stay in front,” he laughed.

Although Wyatt’s only win of the Audi Winter Series has come on a heavier weather day, he says his yacht much prefers lighter airs, “We’re praying for lighter wind for the last three races, the boat always sails well then. I’m pleasantly surprised by our win today, as it was getting up to 18-19 knots. We picked the shifts well today, too,” he said.

Wyatt and his crew only have a three-point buffer over nearest rivals, Bob Penty’s Beneteau 38s5, Big Blue, with a further seven and a half points to Kevin O’Shea’s Sparkman & Stephens Stormy Petrel.

“We’ll have to be vigilant. Funnily, it’s the other Match 35, Perfect Match, that has kept us on our toes,” said Wyatt of Alun Lewis’ sistership which is currently sixth overall.

Another happy Race 10 winner is Robert Skol, who racked up his second win of the series with Scarlett O’Hara, to be third overall in the series. He is seven points behind leader Mean Machine (Chris Rabbidge) and four adrift of The Philosophers Club, Peter Sorensen’s Audi IRC Australian Championship winner of 2008. Sorensen has made no secret of the fact that he is a big Audi fan.

Skol knows he has to stay on top of his game to take out the series, and akin to Wyatt, has a benchmark in his division which is sitting in fourth place overall, but on equal points with Scarlett O’Hara. “Yep, it’s Akela and we have a friendly side-bet with them in the series. Whoever is the loser between us at the end of the series has to buy the other crew dinner,” Skol laughed.

The two boats, Skol’s 30 Square Metre and Akela, the Jutson 40 skippered by Alan ‘Big Al’ Mather, have been slogging it out all winter. “We were lucky because today was the right wind for us – last week was light and we were dead last, so I was very pleased when I looked at today’s forecast,” Skol commented.

“We spend every race covering Akela – we don’t even check out the rest of our division,” Skol admitted, laughing.

Of today’s race, Skol said, “the breeze was all over the shop when we started – we couldn’t lay the line on starboard – and we couldn’t lay it on port either. Once we got started though, it settled down.

Division H winner, Paul O’Connell, a long time member of the CYCA and skipper of Katinka, was the lucky person handed the set of keys to an Audi A5 Sportback 3.0 TDI quattro for a week.

Three races remain in the Audi Winter Series, with the non-pointscore Ladies Day Race to close the series on July 25.