Sunday, 10 April 2011

ASONYR: Loki leads fleet to Newcastle

Ragamuffin led the charge off the start line with Loki. Image copyright Andrea Francolini/AUDI.

by Di Pearson

A fleet of 18 lined up for the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 213 nautical mile Audi Sydney Offshore Newcastle Yacht Race today for the midday start and Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki powered off the start at the pin end to lead the yachts as they left Sydney Harbour and turned left for Newcastle on the NSW coast.

With the breeze just east of south at around 10-12 knots blowing, Loki and Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin, which was mid line, looked the boats to beat. However, Loki reach North Head and swapped the Code Zero, for a big masthead kite and found her legs, putting more time between herself and the rest of the fleet.

Loki headed out to sea averaging 11 knots reaching a maximum of 14 knots,” navigator Michael Bellingham reported at 1.14pm.

Sailing towards Watsons Bay, some two minutes behind already, Ragamuffin was fending off a challenge from Colin and Gladys Woods’ Pretty Fly III, as the two set kites off South Head and also headed out to sea.

Southern Excellence, the Volvo 60 owned by Andrew Wenham, was next to exit Sydney Heads, her Audi backstay flag flying gaily in the breeze as she hugged the coastline.

Sam Haynes did a good job with his Rogers 46, Pirelli Celestial, sailing her to fourth place, with Santana 3 (Nick Johnston) following in Pirelli’s wake.

“As we head north, the breeze has settled at around 10 knots from the south-east. Inshore, forward and to leeward there’s a large rain cell and the observations say ‘no wind there’, so the strategy is to stay wide,” Bellingham reported from Loki.

“We have Ragamuffin to leeward and aft and Pretty Fly III to windward and aft. The yachts offshore appear to be doing better.”

At 8.00am this morning, Michael Logan Senior Duty Forecaster for the Bureau of Meteorology did not give the fleet the news they wanted to hear, although conditions for the latter part of the race on Sunday did bring a smile to the faces of those sailing on smaller yachts, who realise the advantage of late stronger winds.

Tasman Pointscore Leader Copernicus. Image copyright Andrea Francolini/AUDI.

Logan told those assembled at the CYCA official briefing this morning: “expect a light east-sou-easterly for the start, around 5 knots, but no more than 10. By 7.00pm this evening there still won’t be a lot of strength, you’ll be lucky to get 10 knots.”

From there, Logan said, the breeze would swing east-nor-east and that when the sun went down, winds would drop right out and the fleet could expect a light land breeze tonight and tomorrow.

By Saturday afternoon, a light sea breeze will hit the fleet, coming to those boats further north first. Logan said it would be a little stronger, perhaps up to 12 knots, rising to possibly 15 knots on Sunday, favouring the smaller yachts still racing.

Loki, the Reichel/Pugh 63 is in the race of her life, sailing master Gordon Maguire explaining after the official briefing that Loki winning the prestigious Blue Water Pointscore for 2010-2011, was not a foregone conclusion. “We need to finish ninth overall or better in this race and have Victoire finish second or worse. There’s eight points between us,” he said.

“Blue Water Pointscore victory is not pre-destined – the deal isn’t done,” Maguire said. “This is not the ideal scenario for us, it’s actually the worst, with the forecast we got. We’ll have to be putting our best foot forward; we won’t be taking our foot off the gas.

Maguire, at the helm of Loki, was doing exactly as they planned, trying put as much distance between them and the smaller boats in the fleet before the winds drop out tonight, if predictions prove correct.

“We’ll have to make our own destiny, it’s not about what Victoire does, it’s about what we do. We have to sail smart the whole way. With the current forecast, there’s a 50/50 chance between us and Victoire,” he said.

Victoire’s Phil Eadie responded: “There will be opportunities with the forecast. Between the light and skittish breeze and the current, it’s a matter of whether to stay in close to the coast or go out – that will be the key,” the well-established navigator said.

For Tasman Pointscore leader, the Radford 12, Copernicus, the weather forecast is a blessing. “We’re looking forward to the stronger breeze late in the race to pull us in,” crew member Duncan McRae. “The forecast’s good for us,” he said.

Darryl Hodgkinson’s Beneteau First 45, Victoire, is second in that pointscore too, so will be breathing down the neck of both Loki and Copernicus. Syd Fischer’s TP52, Ragamuffin, leads the Cape Byron Pointscore from Colin and Gladys Woods’ Cookson 50, Pretty Fly III.

The Audi Sydney Offshore Newcastle Yacht Race, organised by CYCA and is the final race of the Blue Water Pointscore and the Tasman Series for the PHS trophy.

The Yellowbrick tracker units have access to over 66 satellites worldwide that will continue to deliver yacht positions to the race website every 10 minutes. Line honours positions and provisional handicap results can be viewed at any time from the Standings section of the race website.

To follow the race from the start visit the official race website or on follow it on Twitter