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Surf to City Race January 2016

The race starts at Southport, heads north around the top of Moreton Island and finishes at Sandgate (North of Brisbane)

Surf2City was probably the first race we have done that was not just about boat speed from start to finish. It was a race of many races and it restarted for us a number of times as the fleet separated and came back together or as the wind died completely and we drifted south for up to an hour at 2-knots, waiting for it to kick in again.

2 things really stood out for me that made a big the difference;

LESSON 1. Never give up and any set backs are only temporary:

From the moment we started, when it took more than 5 minutes just to drift across the start line in WNW 5 knots, we were on the back foot. We went offshore initially and the better breeze offset the head current and we found ourselves up with faster boats (that should have been further ahead) when we came back inshore after a few hours.

Unfortunately we persisted in going offshore again without realising that the head current increases from 1.5 knots to 2.5 knots once you get north of South Stradbroke Island. To put this in context; after 8 hours we were only 0.9nm behind Painkiller OP (our target competitor). After 9 hours, we were 3.5nm behind Painkiller OP and ended up in the last 2 or 3 boats from the back of the fleet, 9 hours after we had started - thats how quickly you get burned with head current if you make the wrong call.

We discussed the situation at about 5pm and agreed there was still at least 90nm of sailing left (going up wind) in this race and we had only covered 21nm so far, so lets not give up yet, lets just take our medicine and pick off one boat at a time and work our way back up through the fleet. We went up the coast tacking inshore at the 20m deep contour line to 9m deep line (100m off the breaker line) before tacking out again and zig zagged our way up the coast faster in the light offshore breeze and less current.

Painkiller OP was now 4.15nm ahead of us, but not pulling away from us anymore. Just before sunset the wind backed from NNW to S at 3-6 knots and knowing a southerly change was due about 11pm, our outstanding foredeck team did not hesitate to throw up the spinnaker. Suddenly we were creeping forwards at 1-2 knots SOG and on AIS we could see Painkiller OP drifting south towards us at 1-2 knots in no breeze.

Either Painkiller had no breeze at all or they did not take the opportunity. Within 30 minutes our deficit was cut to 1.8nm (from 4.15nm) and the breeze died again and down came the kite. We continued to creep up the coast as the wind returned to WNW, tacking regularly in and out of the surf line until we hit the top of North Stradbroke Island. As we attempted to round the point, we hit the carpark that held several yachts including Painkiller OP (just 800m away) that had sailed into no wind at all and a current pushing them south at 2.5nm SOG. While we were happy to be back in the main fleet, but we were now pointing east trying to get boat any speed we could, but being swept south as well in the strong current.

After about 45 minutes and drifting about 2 miles south, our break came after several attempts to get the boat moving again, when we managed to squeeze 2-3 knots of boat speed out of 5 knots of WNW breeze, creep up around the point where North Stradbroke meets Moreton Island, get into fresh breeze under the Code 0 and suddenly off we went again doing 5-6 knots for another 30 minutes until the breeze died at area where the sea spills out (on the outgoing tide) between the North Stradbroke and Moreton Island. At best we are drifting east with breeze/current combined and at worst heading south toward the rocks we had just sailed through (I like short cuts!) for another 30 - 45 minutes.

Again the breeze died from the WNW and we started to get small puffs from the SE. We quickly checked the Seabreeze Weather App and found out that it was blowing from the S-SE at 5-15 knots at the Seaway and at Coolangatta. We now knew it was less than an hour before the promised SE change came up the coast and hit us. We quickly put up the Spinnaker and sat there in no breeze as the boat rolled from side to side in the swell, while we slid southwards with Eli and Karl doing their best to stop the lifeless spinnaker wrapping around the forestay. For half an hour we sat there waiting for signs of life from the South - and then it came; first at SE 3 knots, then 6, then 10, then 15-17 and then a solid 20 knots as we sailed a cloud line and watched a localised storm front rolling across to the north of us on a Logan to Moreton Island track

Lightening was striking regularly well north of where we were and the wind built to a solid 25-26 knots as we sailed on into the early hours of Sunday morning, with our biggest spinnaker flying, doing 8-10 knots (5-7 knots SOG) and ticking off the 32 miles from the bottom to the top of Moreton Island. To our delight, Painkiller OP sat in the doldrums for a further hour and we were suddenly 5 nm in front, then 7, then 9 and eventually 10nm in front of them, as they rounded the top of Moreton Island early Sunday morning behind us.

LESSON 2. Be willing to make sail changes and experiment, but don't persist if you get it wrong and make the problem worse.

Our team of 6, especially those on the foredeck (Eli, Karl and often Sean) were exceptional in willingness to make one sail change after another in search of speed and break throughs. This is what set us apart and as darkness fell, we pushed even harder when other boats would have taken it easier. We pushed hard through the night under spinnaker in conditions others would have been more conservative with and never gave up being creative and trying to get the boat moving forward, whenever the breeze died, even when we were getting tired (Danielle's excellent catering kept the energy flowing!).

This willingness by the crew kept finding breakthroughs and lifting our game as the wind kept changing and dying.

I have never been in a race where you can go from nothing to 4nm behind and then 10nm back in front in less than 5 hours. It's a great example of some of the challenges that lie ahead with the ocean races we have planned this year. When other boats are sitting still, you can make big gains if you can get around them or by being the first yacht to start moving forwards again.

By the time we finished the 23.5 hour race, we were 1 hour 25 minutes ahead of Painkiller OP and more than 2.5 hours ahead on corrected IRC time. On reflection, from the 39 keel boats that started, 11 beat us across the finish line, 18 retired and 10 finished behind us.

The best result for me was 5th in the IRC division out of 19 starters and performing competitively against some serious carbon racing machines. We now know we can compete with the seriously good racing boats on IRC if we do our best on the day (and the weather goes our way).

Great work Eli, Karl, Argot, Peter and Sean. A big race for a crew of 6 and a real pleasure to have sailed it with you. We pulled back into SYC at 10:40pm Sunday night after a 9 hour trip back from Sandgate and 36 hours on the water, with Peter helming the majority of the way.