Sunday, 26 September 2010

Loki wins the battle of the Bird Island parking lot

Stephen Ainsworth’s RP63 Loki wins the CYCA’s Blue Water Pointscore Bird Island Race and the 54th Janzoon Trophy. Image copyright Andrea Francolini.

by Di Pearson

Parking is ok if you are at the drive-in movies, but it’s not much fun when you are trying to win an ocean race that may help deliver you the prestigious Blue Water Pointscore trophy, and along with the other 23 entries in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Bird Island Race, that is what the overall winner, Loki and her crew had to endure throughout the race.

For yet another year, Brindabella’s now 15 year-old Bird Island race record of 7 hours, 42mins 15secs remains intact, because the forecast 10-20 knot average north-westerly winds that could have made the difference, failed to materialise.

Bob Oatley’s R/P 66 Wild Oats X, with Iain Murray at the helm, claimed line honours, finishing on Saturday morning at 07.26.08am in the time of 12 hours 26mins 8secs.

Stephen Ainsworth’s R/P 63, Loki, finished the 85 nautical mile race next at 07.46.26am, with Syd Fischer’s TP52, Ragamuffin, third home, just over three hours later. Both represent the CYCA.

On finishing, Loki’s helmsman, Gordon Maguire, was convinced they didn’t have a chance of winning. “I’d suggest it’s not a big boat race, but Ragamuffin was doing really well, the best of the big boats,” he said. Fischer had obviously wiped off the jetlag after only returning from the 12 Metre America’s Cup Legends Reunion in Rhode Island earlier in the week.

However, Maguire did not bank on the breeze fading as it did, detaining Ragamuffin and the smaller boats.

On hearing of his win, Loki’s owner, Stephen Ainsworth responded: “It was a change for the weather to go with us instead of against us! We knew Ragamuffin was closest to us, but after the race I was watching from Point Piper and I didn’t see Ragamuffin and the breeze had died out a bit. I realised then we were looking good.”

Of Loki’s many successes in the past year, the CYCA yachtsman said, “We feel pretty good; we’ll just keep doing what we do. We’re in for the entire Blue Water Pointscore which is close already. We’ve had two wins and Wild Oats X has had two seconds, so it will be an interesting series.”

Early signs of what was to come became evident when a flukey 8-9 knot north-north-easterly breeze sent the fleet on its way at 7.00pm on Friday evening in the CYCA’s summer offshore opener. After starting off Point Piper on Sydney Harbour, the yachts were becalmed for the first time when they tried to exit the Heads. It was the prologue of what was to come.

“It’s been a long night and we’re in for a long day too,” the CYCA’s principal race officer Robyn Morton said early on Saturday morning, never guessing she and her team would still be on station at the Sydney Harbour finish line late on Saturday evening.

The bulk of the fleet struggled to make it home in time for afternoon tea, while the stragglers missed dinner altogether. All came home physically and mentally drained after playing a game of patience.

“Five boats were still heading north when we conducted the 7.05am sked this morning; which tells you just how light it is out there,” Morton said on Saturday morning.

The longer the smaller boats were out there, the more it became clear that it would be a big boat race. In the end, Loki claimed the overall honours and the 54th Janzoon Trophy from Wild Oats X, with Ragamuffin third – and that’s how the top three in the early stages of the BWPS also stack up.

Other winners were Ragamuffin, which claimed the Cape Byron Pointscore ORCI Division and Sam Haynes, who took out the 35th George Barton Trophy for the Tasman Performance Pointscore PHS division with his Sydney 39, Celestial. However, it is Loki that leads this series from Wild Oats X and Roger Hickman’s Farr 43 Wild Rose, with Celestial fourth.

Four yachts retired from the race of which Jonathan Stone’s Illusion was the last to finish, crossing the line after 9.30pm last evening.

Having won the 2009/2010 Audi IRC Australian Championship and having also won the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Race in August, the first race of the BWPS, Loki is without doubt the boat to beat.

Maguire went on to describe the race straight after finishing: “Everyone was becalmed several times; the first time was at the entrance to the Harbour which was not a good omen. We were becalmed again off Barrenjoey and again at Norah Head. We were becalmed for two hours at one stage,” he added.

Maguire described the race as light and flukey throughout. “We headed off in the remnants of a light nor’easter. It was not an easy race – there was no rest for the wicked,” he said.

The Bird Island Race is the second of the Blue Water Pointscore (BWPS), a seven-race series that commenced with the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race in July and finishes with the Audi Sydney Offshore Newcastle Yacht Race in April next year.