Sunstone’s ‘As It Happened’ Reports Legs 2, 3 & 4
Day 1/2 Leg 2
Light patchy start, lots of sail evolution for little gain. Surreal took a flyer and gained, then got dumped. Vingilot and Danaide found breeze along the shore and did well. Looked like Truxton led the way again. Sunstone and Pelagian level pegging, til Pelagian went under Surville cliffs, gained then stopped. Pelagian fell into huge black hole off Reinga and not seen again. Sloppy v light sailing in the night, now much better - though not in the right direction. Dolphins, sharks and albatross.
Leg2, Day 3
Frustrating day yesterday until late afternoon. Light beating in a lumpy swell - not exactly Sunstone forte. Breeze veered and filled late to give pleasant sailing nearly making the course required. Looks like we're pretty far off the pace though. We'll see what happens when the going gets tough.
Leg 2 - Day 4&5
Day four was pretty unpleasant and we're not over surprised that three boats are seeking shelter, especially with a nasty low on the way - though what shelter they'll find in Golden Bay we don't know! Wind was mostly 30-35 on the nose with very big seas, some 8-10 m. Though the wind probably didn't require it we eventually got down to No 4 and trysail, which was about right. Anyway, it seems to have done us some good relative to other boats - except for Surreal, which has shot away from us all. Only one bit of damage, when the 3rd reef pennant snapped - we jury rigged another. Today is lighter beating - 15 knots at the moment with a left-over sea. It looks like another day of beating in 30+ tomorrow and then maybe some running or reaching for a day or two. Sunstone is a rather damp house-boat at present. Roll on Half-Moon Bay!
Leg 2 - Days 6 & 7
We were relieved to hear that both the Pelagians and Panthers were OK. They must have had a hell of an ordeal and deserve a prize for getting through it. Maybe someone would sponsor it. Mount Gay might be appropriate! Yesterday was another jolly day of 30+ knot beating, but after we got away from the influence of the low we had pure blue skies, broken only by the occasional soaring albatross. Anyway it seems to have done us good as we're now only 20 miles behind Surreal, instead of 60. Beautiful moon and some nicer breeze for a while last night as we came inshore to find a good lift along the shore until it all died - mostly about 5 -7 knots since then, but with a nice view of the mountains with lots of albatross. A good day for drying out!
Leg 2 Day 7 & 8
Frustrating day yesterday in beautiful weather, but no wind. During the day we made a total of about 6 miles, while we sat in the Mt. Cook hole. Very beautiful views and wonderful flocks of albatross. You wouldn't think they were endangered to see the hundreds soaring and bobbing on the sea. Wind finally filled about 2200 to give a nice spin reach to Jackson Head. Wind had got up to about 25 kts so we just poled the three. Now doing a steady 8.5 over SOG past the misty mountains of Fiordland. Just hoping we can get past the corner before the front brings SWlies and then into Oban before the SElies!!
Leg 2 - Days??
Losing count here after last night's encounter with Puysegur. We had fast running down the Fiordland coast with the wind building steadily until by evening we had just the poled No3, which we finally exchanged for the storm jib (not seen out of its bag since the 1985 Fastnet). The seas also built steadily and by the time we were off Chalky and Preservation they were also breaking heavily. One of these caught us out and put us on our side, causing a certain amount of domestic mayhem. The only major damage was one small bit of the Monitor which we'll have to try to replace at short notice if we are to have self-steering capability for the next legs. By daylight we were past Puysegur with the wind still gusting in the 50s, but the seas down. By noon it was pleasant fast reaching with full main and poled No3. This evening we are sitting 12 miles from the finish with virtually no wind and Vingilot and Revs snapping at our heels all too clearly in sight. It would be nice to finish before dawn.
Leg 2 End
At my last update we were bobbing around in no wind and foul tide on the east coast of Stewart Is, thinking that we might still have to hand over lead for the leg to Surreal by not finishing until morning. About 2100 a fickle but firmer breeze filled from the west and we got underway, moving away from Vingilot and Revs who were still stuck off Saddle Point. In fits and starts we made it to the finish at 2256, storming into Half-Moon Bay on a fresh beat with two or three tacks to the line. Steve Ashley hopped on board, we picked up a mooring and collapsed in a heap. Vingilot and Revs finished shortly after.
This leg has been one of the most challenging bits of racing we've ever done. We've had every sort of weather, from light beating in swell to exceptionally heavy running in breaking waves. We've used 10 different sails at various times, quite apart from reefs in and out. Though most of the leg was in deep water there were also the challenges of the coast at Reinga and Puysegur, the latter in very heavy conditions with poor visibility. Sunstone has never been knocked down before. The boat is fine, but everything is even wetter than on any previous race and we have had some very very wet ones. All of this two-handed. We're shattered! But pretty pleased with ourselves for the moment. Now for the cleaning up and repairs - as well as the odd drink.
Leg 3 Day 1
After a wonderful stop-over and the overwhelming hospitality of the Stewart islanders, we've had a frustrating first 20 hours. The start in light SW saw everyone away cleanly, with the light fractional fliers moving away as you might expect and working their angles. There was a small shift to Wly on which they all gybed, while the back of the fleet did not - to their cost. The shift put us in the long shadow of the heights on the north coast of Stewart Is and plunged us, Vingilot and Pelagian into a deep hole from which we only emerged about two hours later with the light guys no where in sight. Though the wind filled after that it has been fitful and variable in direction ever since, sometimes west, sometimes nearly north, often only 5 knots but occasionally up to 18. The slow boats are still together, many miles behind the faster bunch of whom Coppelia seems to have done outstandingly well so far. At the moment we have one of the horrible light spells, 5 knots from NNW. To top it all there are seismic survey vessels with 4 mile towed arrays to dodge up ahead. We'd like a little firm breeze please!
Leg 3 Day 2
Well, the wind did firm, coming in from the north and giving us all a beat past the Otago Peninsula. Once past the fleet divided into those opting for the coast and the others offshore. In the early hours, the wind moved into the WNW allowing us to lay the course toward the Banks Peninsula with the breeze in the mid-teens. Just after breakfast the southerly change came through, initially at 25-30, but rapidly dying and moving into the SE. We are currently reaching in 10-12 knts of SE, spin up and a good fair current under us. This southerly might carry us through tonight, but then die out somewhere north of Christchurch and give aanother frustrating period under the middle of the ridge, until a new set of northerlies kicks in.
On the personal front, Tom is struggling to shrug off a cold.
Leg 3 Day 3
Quite a contrast during the last 24 hours. The wind built rapidly in the late morning to 25+ from the south. We reached with the heavy spin all day and into the evening, when the wind lightened steadily. By about 2200 the combination of lack of wind and seas made the spin too unstable, we took down and did our best with a poled headsail, until the wind went westerly and very light when we gybed. In the early hours, after a patch of bugger all, the breeze went back to the SE and we gybed again. Since dawn it's firmed a little and come more easterly, but still nothing much in strength. Looks like Surreal, Truxton and Coppelia have stayed east to stay in the southerlies as long as possible, but we guess they still have the light and vars to come.
Mobbed by a pod of phosphorescent dolphins during the night, upsetting concentration on boat speed! Cold coming on nicely
Leg 3 end
Sorry that we missed reporting during the last half of the leg. We missed Day 4 because it was fairly bouncy beating and I didn't get the computer out. We missed yesterday out of depression and embarrassment.
On Thursday afternoon we had a delightful beat in sunny weather past the Kaikoura Coast, heading into the approaches to Cook Strait. At the evening sched things were looking good and we were well in with the 'aft' end of the fleet. At that point we took our LTO (lightning tack to oblivion) by heading east to stay out of the complications of the strait tides. As it happened those who stood on, Pelagian and Vingilot (the latter particularly) got on the inside of a later major lift, which brought them out well ahead of us by morning. How depressing! The next day's beating to get in with the coast did nothing to cheer us up, while the following day's more pleasant, but demanding windward work was tiring as we struggled to make up some ground. And we did, but not enough to over come the deficit, especially when the evening and night vagaries of Hawke Bay took over and we spent six and a half hours to get from Cape Kidnappers to the finish - one hour of which for the last mile. That we have come second in IRC is still something of a miracle, but we are now well out of contention for the Race overall. Truxton clearly sailed a blinder as did Surreal, while Coppelia must be pretty pleased with themselves as well. However, we think that Vingilot crew, Charles and Matt, are the heroes of the leg. They have taken a heavy cruiser through heavy and light, with a lot of windward work and by our calculations now lie third overall by determination, persistence and skill. Great stuff!
Sorry we didn't give you any 'as it happens' reports for Leg 4. It was an all up-wind leg and so there weren't great opportunities to sit with the computer!
We went out to the start at Napier in thick fog. For a time Vingilot and Danaide got lost beyond the shipping channel with ship movements in and out of the port. However, the start was only fifteen minutes late - the only up-wind start of the Race. In an excess of enthusiasm, Coppelia headed toward the exclusion zone, reversed out and bumped Danaide in the process, having to do a 720 to clear herself. There had been some despondency at the pre-leg briefing with a forecast of filthy weather for the first night. In the event, it was pretty objectionable, but not truly wicked. By the middle of the next day things were easing off. When we got the No 4 down we found that the leech tabling had given up the unequal struggle in one area, so we hoped we wouldn't need it again. We certainly didn't during the remainder of the day when the wind got lighter, but then filled during the night. Needless to say this was all on the wind work. Despite the weather we were pretty pleased with our progress, staying well up with the pack and well placed on handicap. However, we were increasingly worried that we wouldn't make the tide-gate at East Cape. So it proved, with the tide turning against ourselves and Danaide just after the leading group got through. We spent an extra hour or so in the middle of the third day tacking inshore to get through the worst of the tide and round. Of course the wind followed us and we settled to working our way north of the rhumbline to get ready for the predicted northerly. During the remainder of the day we managed to close up with Vingilot and Danaide. As so often in the Bay of Plenty there were wide differences in tactics. We were puzzled to see Surreal heading down into southwest corner, while Truxton appeared to head for Great Barrier. In the meantime Coppelia had done a flier pretty much up the middle. Time would tell. In our minds the biggest concerns were whether we would make the tide at Colville Channel and the timing of the predicted SW change. We were already pretty reconciled to seeing the leaders reach all the way to the finish, while we would have to beat across the Hauraki Gulf. During the night Danaide made a break and got away to the north, picking up the new breeze sooner and at a better angle than we did. However, we were pleased to get moving on a good course for the Mercs and the Channel despite the heavy rain. And we made the tide. It was just as well, as the wind died in the Channel just before we had got past Channel Island. We knew the SW change was imminent, so we got the No3 up and two reefs in just before the 30+ knot blast came on. It wasn't all bad, as these are Sunstone conditions. We headed west toward Flat Island then worked our way south, keeping the options open between going in through Motuhuie and Rangitoto. Eventually, shifts, tide and personal preference led us to choose the latter. Surreal, on their way home to Gulf Harbour, cheered us on and we were swept quickly in past North Head and up to the finish in bright evening sunshine. The horn hooted on the line and we breathed a sigh of relief. We had sailed a good leg and were very satisfied, despite only a mediocre PHRF placing. However, we were 1st in IRC (later corrected to 2nd , but by only 14 minutes). An interesting contrast.
Sunstone’s RNZ Overview
Physically a race like this is very demanding. Despite the stops, exhaustion is only a few hours away most of the time. It is impossible to get enough sleep if you are seriously trying to be competitive. We have a lot of experience pacing ourselves when cruising two-handed, when we have a very regular watch system, which ensures that we get enough rest except in seriously bad weather. For serious racing a watch system doesn't work for us. Mostly we were sleeping in spells of about an hour or less, with very occasional periods of one and a half hours. This isn't good for your body or your brain. Though we got enough food, we both lost weight and were just calorie stoking, quite often eating cold ravioli out of the tin. As we were by far the oldest crew at a combined age of 124, we did also have physical disadvantages to start with in terms of strength and pre-existing arthriticy aches. However, we may have had some advantages in stamina. By the end of the Race we were pretty shattered, though we were probably at our lowest in Napier after a disappointing leg. The other side of the physical challenge is that a boat like ours is actually quite heavy to work. We are well set up for two-handed sailing but the spins are big and the poles are heavy. On Leg 2 we used 10 different sails at various times. And anyway, who ever heard of a 65 year-old bow man!
Mental toughness is pretty essential for an event like this, especially when it turns out that there are not just odd spells of very difficult conditions, but long continous periods. In addition, in this Race the appearance of the weather 'bomb' was bound to cause some consternation. It did with us. When Tom saw the GRIB file predictions for that very rapidly deepening low he said to Vicky, 'this is a very dangerous system!' We seriously discussed heading to Tasman Bay, but eventually decided to go on, partly because we were unsure whether we could reach shelter before the winds turned strong easterly. Our decision to go on was partly because we were well placed and because we were possibly far enough south to avoid the worst of the weather. The decisions of the three boats to seek shelter were seaman-like, but were probably influenced, as our discussions were, by the extremely unpleasant conditions which we had already been experiencing for some time. It was tough out there.
Tactically the Race was more challenging than usual because there was so much windward work. When reaching or running it is rarely useful to stray far from the shortest route unless there are major weather factors or your rig dictates wide gybing angles. This is not the case with windard work, where working the shifts correctly is essential. Dealing with the tactical issues in heavier windward conditions is also challenging, when sail damage, handling difficulties and pure discomfort may inhibit perfect tactical thinking!
We knew a couple of days before the start that we would not be in the running for any overall prizes. As soon as it was clear that the first short leg would be in heavy running conditions we knew that Sunstone would be too disadvantaged to place well. Sunstone comes from an era of design which did not encourage the ability to surf and plane. You can carry as much sail as you like and only end up in a deeper hole, trailing quarter waves that are a surfer's delight. We had an exciting time with our heavy spin up for much of the leg, but still trailed far behind, despite shooting the 'gap' at the Cavallies.
The opportunities presented by the second leg were a compensation and by the middle of the leg, before the appearance of the 'bomb' we were well placed in heavy beating conditions which have always suited Sunstone. We were fortunate to be just far enough ahead to get south of Cape Foulwind (appropriately!) before the passage of the low, however, that did lead us further inshore than we would normally have preferred. Generally we avoid getting inshore unnecessarily on offshore races, believing that it pays only about one time in five and can be a disaster as often as 50% of the time. It nearly was for us when we ended up in the lee of Mt. Cook in a gradient NEly. Fortunately most other boats found the same hole at some point.
Once off Fiordland, a short-lived spin reach ended and we progressively reduced sail as the wind got up. For a while we ran with a poled No 3 alone, as this gave us the option of running significantly by the lee when necessary. When the wind got up to about 45kts+, we went to the storm jib only, still running fast in seas that were now quite large and breaking. When the wind was 55kts+ One of these seas caught the boat slightly too far off dead down wind and spun us into a broach. It was not a heavy knock-down, but far enough that water shot in the dorade vents and around the sides of the main hatch. It also broke both the air vane and parts of the connecting rod on our Monitor windvane steerer. However, damage was minor and nothing to prevent us continuing as before. Once around Puysegur, the seas began to moderate though the wind was still very strong for a time. Inevitably, by the time we got to the northern corner of Stewart Island we were struggling to keep way on in a very fickle breeze. Naturally we were delighted to finish second on line and first on both handicaps. It was our one moment of glory in the Race - not to be repeated!
The third leg was a trial for us. Despite the longer stop in Oban, we were still very tired at the start of Leg 3, while their apparently poor showing had certainly motivated the three crews who had sought shelter on Leg 2. Somehow we made bad call after bad call, from tactics to sail changes. In the latter case often doing two changes in half an hour because the first had been a mistake. To top it all, Tom had caught a cold at Oban and was not fully fit physically or mentally. Nevertheless, we were not totally out of touch until well over half-way to Napier, to the east of Cook Strait. At this point we stopped thinking altogether and went the wrong way for several hours. This not only put us on the long outside of a lift, but also cost time that proved vital at the end when the wind died in Hawke Bay and we took six hours to get from Cape Kidnappers to the finish 13 miles away. It was a very disappointing leg.
Despite the prospect of very unpleasant weather we may have been better motivated for the last leg. Tactically we made the right decisions with only one exception and that was that we didn't go quite far enough north to meet the predicted new wind. However, even at her best Sunstone was not fast enough to make the tidal gate at East Cape, which the faster boats did and we were never likely to make any distance into the Hauraki Gulf before the strong SW change came through, forcing us to beat home while the faster boats reached. That's offshore racing. We still felt satisfied with our performance on the last leg.
Damage, Repairs & Spares
One aspect of our race of which we were particularly proud was the way we dealt with damage and repairs. Despite the knock-down we actually had relatively little damage:
broken snatch block
damaged monitor windvane steerer
1 lost batten and torn batten pocket on NO 3
torn tabling on No 4
smashed steaming light
broken third reef pennant
smashed up pram hood
We repaired or replaced all of these from spares on board. The only assistance we had was when Roger repaired our torn No 3 batten pocket in Napier, though we provided the replacement batten and could have repaired the pocket from spares on board. Even the stanchion was replaced by a spare on board and the Monitor was repaired entirely from on-board spares. We made temporary repairs to the No 4, but confess that we were glad not to have them tested! It is worth saying that we spent a lot of time in Oban doing some of these repairs and were glad of the extra time there for that reason if no other.
The club is a remarkable organisation, which runs some of the most ambitious and challenging racing in New Zealand on a shoe-string through the enthusiastic support of its committee, its members and supporters. We are most grateful to them all, but particularly to Steve Ashley, the Race Officer. He worked tirelessly to make the event a memorable one for the competitors. His enthusiasm was contagious and he made every crew feel that they were heroes even when they came in last at three in the morning. Brian Murray and his wife Erica were also stalwarts in their support and enthusiasm. Every member of the committee made some essential contribution and we are very grateful to them all.
Why Do It?
Sailing is the most complex and challenging sport there is- that's why we do it - and offshore racing is it's most challenging version. Charles, the skipper of Vingilot said to us after the Race, 'This was the toughest challenge of my life.' Having heard his stories of other challenges he has faced, that is saying something, but it was probably true for most of us in the race. For everyone there was a very big investment of time and money. However, those were only secondary to the personal investment. Talking to the other crews it was clear that they, as we, felt that they had learned important things about themselves, both strengths and weaknesses during the Race. Without getting too mystical about it, that's what setting and facing challenges like this race do for you and why they are worth the price you pay to do them. Of course, alternatively we could all sit around watching golf on TV.