Friday, 31 December 2010

Downwind start predicted for 30th Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Race

The Cookson 12 'About Time'will be in contention for handicap honours in the 30th Pittwater Coffs Race. Image copyright Damian Devine.

by Damian Devine

A fleet of 50 yachts will start the 30th Anniversary Pittwater to Coffs Harbour race, the first offshore race of the New Year commencing on Sunday 2 January with downwind sailing conditions forecast for the start.

Predict and BOM forecast a 10-15 knot South Easter for the 1pm start, building into a stronger southerly expected to pass through Sydney’s north later in the evening. It will be a question of when the southerly hits, how fast it travels North and where the front runners are.

The Southerly will be battling to break through a weaker East North East system further up the coast and seaward during the afternoon and well into the next morning.

If the forecast rings true, the bigger boats may well be sailing in front of the system and will gain little benefit of the stronger downwind conditions that the back end of the fleet should enjoy. This should make for a small boat race as long as they manage to stay in the system with the bigger boats looking over their shoulder.

However, if the converse rings true and the southerly hits earlier then the race record could be under threat and the bigger boats will enjoy a fast race north. Whatever the case, at this stage it looks like sticking close to the coast could be the fastest course North.

There will be a number of interesting battles within the race with multiple Cookson 12s, TP52s, Farr 40s, Beneteau 40 and 35 footers fighting it out.

In terms of IRC handicap honours, there's a bunch of boats in contention including the 2009 winner ‘About Time’, Julian Farren-Price’s Cookson 12, who has podiumed consistently over the past few years. Others in the frame include Bob Steel’s ‘Quest’, a TP52 with a proven track record and previous handicap winner of Sydney to Hobart race (2008). She will be hard to beat, as will Bob Oatley’s RP 66 ‘Wild Oats X’ who has been there before, ‘Close Halled’, a Beneteau First 40 skippered by Graham Hall from the LMYC and Bob Cox’s ‘Nine Dragons’ a Northshore 369 sailed out of Middle Harbour YC, with a fourth on handicap in their inaugural race last year.

Add to that ‘Hussy’, a Sydney 39CR, ‘Pretty Woman’, a Farr45, the A40 ‘One for the Road’, ‘Mr Beaks Ribs’, the Beneteau 44.7 and there is a cracking fleet prepared for this race.

There was plenty of activity dockside today at the host Club, The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, with skippers and crew putting final preparations to their paperwork and boats in readiness for the race.

Julian Farren-Price ‘About Time’ commented, “With the current forecast it will no doubt suit the smaller boats and bring them a little closer to the bigger boys. The current could be an issue with the charts looking hot so we’ll probably stick to a course close to the beaches and hope the Southerly hangs in. We’re certainly looking forward to the 30th Anniversary race, the boat and crew are in good shape and we’ll see what magic we can weave.”

“It’s a shame our good friend Bill Ebsary’s ‘Le Billet’ isn’t racing this year as to, ‘Dark & Stormy Witch’ as we’ve had a good rivalry over the past three years. We’ll certainly miss them but we still have ‘Mr. Beaks Ribs’ and ‘Pretty Woman’ to keep us honest. We’ll give it our best shot.”

Richard Hudson, 25 year race veteran, skipper and co-owner of ‘Pretty Woman’ said, “We are looking to an exciting and hopefully fast race. The boat and crew are in good shape and we’re ready to go. We are fortunate enough to have the experience and knowledge of Angus Gordon on board to help navigate. In fact, after I read his book “Racing to Coffs” I called him up and said you’ve just got to come with us. Fortunately, he said yes!”

'Future Shock', sailing in the shorthanded Division, will be amongst the front runners. Image copyright Damian Devine.

Bruce Staples is another 25 year Coffs veteran. He will be defending his IRC handicap crown with his relatively new Farr 40 ‘Witchcraft’ after putting ‘Dark & Stormy Witch’ on the market. He should gain benefit during the lighter air conditions early in the race. Staples said, “We’ll just take it as it comes and see what the weather Gods deliver on the day. Our first goal is to beat the other Farr 40s in the race and get there in one piece. We’re all looking forward to it.”

John Bacon’s owner / skipper of the Sydney 39CR ‘Hussy’ is hoping for the downwind conditions to prevail. “The forecast looks good for us. As it long as it doesn’t get too heavy, the boat relishes these downwind conditions as this boat likes to sail square. So hopefully we’ll be in good shape and I can’t wait for the race,” said Bacon.

It was no fluke last year when MHYC’s Bob Cox’s Northshore 369 finished 4th on handicap in his first ever ocean race. His boat ‘ Nine Dragons’, is the former “AFR Midnight Rambler’ having competing in a number of Hobart races and is no slouch for its size. With the same crew of eight on board this year including Mitch and Morgan White and son Christian Cox, his mastman and grinder, they will fight hard all the way.

A very modest Cox said, “We don’t expect to do as well as last year, that was an exceptional result. Our IRC rating is quite high for a 36 footer and we’ve paid the price for the two big kites we carry. The boats in great nick so our approach to the race is to enjoy it, do our best, push the boat to its limit and get there in one piece. We’re not cocky at all and we’ll be keeping a keen eye on the other 36s, the Sydney 39 and the First 40s.”

“We’ll be hoping for the Southerly to hit 25 knots, that would suit us perfectly. With the large masthead kite we have, she runs well in those conditions or even those directly on the nose. We’ll be hoping to sail to her rating and hopefully we don’t wind up in the drink.”

In terms of PHS, the ID 35 ‘The Real Thing’, the Beneteau 36.7 ‘First Light’ , the MBD40 ‘Dream Lover’ and the J35 ‘Jayhawk’ will all be up there. Rob Alder, skipper of ‘Jayhawk’ in his 10th race along with his experienced crew is very competitive. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Alder said. “The race itself is an extremely tactical race bringing you right in close to the coast, land and sea breezes to pick and currents to contend with so there are many decisions to be made along the way. What a great way to start the New Year.”

Line honors favourite will be Bob Oatley’s RP66 ‘Wild Oats X’ little sister to the 2010 winner ‘Wild Oats XI’ skippered by Mark Richards. Having won this race twice before in 2005 and 2006 and picking up the double with a handicap victory in 2005 she will be clear favourite to take home the coveted Coffs Harbour Bell Trophy. Richards vowed he would be back to celebrate the 30th Anniversary. He’ll be hoping the Southerly comes earlier than forecast to give his own race record of 18 hours 29 minutes 14 seconds a shake.

Those ready to pounce and keep ‘Wild Oats X’ honest will be the Elliot 57, ‘Future Shock’ who will be sailing shorthanded with just three crew on board and with little weight on board, Bruce Absolon’s Volvo 60 ‘Spirit of the Maid’, and ‘Belle’ the LY 60.

The four boats contesting the shorthanded Division should see a great battle particularly between the three Queenslanders the MBD40 ‘ Dream Lover’, the Young 11 ‘Outsideedge’ and the Sayer 10.6 ‘ Soothsayer’ with Future Shock, at 57 feet sure to set the pace.

Each boat has been fitted with a satellite GPS tracker and positions will be updated on the event website every 15 minutes during the race.

For the list of entries and to follow all the action on the event website at

A special commemorative 30th Anniversary magazine has been compiled for the race and is available from the RPAYC and CHYC.

Keith Le Compte, winner of the inaugural race back in 1981 with his boat ‘White Pointer’ will be there to watch the start with a couple of the original crew so will be looking the start with some nostalgia. Acknowledging the 30th Anniversary race, he had the final word, “In my time it was all about the current and back then all we had were thermometers, now its internet and maps. The current can be the trickiest thing about the race. With such a picturesque coastline, it makes it a beautiful race so I say to the competitors in this 30th race beware of the currents, appreciate the scenery, enjoy the reception at the other end where there’s always a great atmosphere and camaraderie and I wish you all good and safe sailing. Congratulations to whoever wins the 30th Coffs race.”

Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Race