Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club in Peppermint Grove is a river based venue with a long history of offshore yacht racing. Last weekend, the Club ran its 68th Bunbury and Return Ocean Race. The 170 nautical mile race starts off Port Beach in Fremantle and takes the fleet south to Koombana Bay . They complete a short lap of the bay along the Bunbury foreshore before turning north for the finish off South Mole in Fremantle.
For the 2016 race, 26 yachts contested this iconic event including Craig Carter’s Indian from RFBYC, fresh from the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. The Carkeek 47 finished the race to Hobart in 11th position over the line, a fantastic effort in what will be known as one of the toughest editions yet with 28 yachts retiring on the first night. Indian didn’t come away unscathed, the team lost the bow sprit early on in the great race and worked hard to get her ready to contest the race to Bunbury and return.
Yachts come in all shapes and sizes but they are all able to compete together. Each is measured and given a handicap rating, whichever team sails their own yacht to its best potential in favourable conditions will win overall on corrected time. Then, there is line honours of course, fastest time in the race which is usually reserved for the larger vessels and race records waiting to be broken.
The race got away at 6pm on Friday. A short leg towards the shore and then the fleet set spinnakers and turned west, towards the gorgeous sunset, it had to be one of the most beautiful offshore starts ever. With a cyclone in the north of the state, the weather was unusual for the middle of summer. It set the stage for a likely race record, playing out perfectly for the front runners over the 170nm course to Bunbury and back again. As the fleet turned to head south the easterly stayed steady and they sailed a fairly direct course to Koombana Bay, arriving a bit before 4am. Walk on the Wildside was first to appear out of the darkness, Garth Curran’s Inglis 57 looking good to grab her tenth fastest time in the race and take the 21 year old race record of 18hours 57minutes from Syrenka.
Hot on her heals, Craig Carter’s Indian was only five minutes behind and with the wind then turning to the south the Carkeek 47 would fly back to the Fremantle finish. At Preston Beach, the guys at Southern Race Control were monitoring the fleet for the 12th consecutive year and could not believe the speed of the fleet, absolutely charging past.
Chasing the two bigger yachts was Alan Stein’s Dirty Deeds. She and Trevor Taylor’s Optimus Prime were tracking a little west of the rhumb line. The pair arrived in Bunbury within a minute of each other but were behind Brian Todd’s Martyn 49, Sue Sea who had taken a route closer to shore.
The sun rose and the turning yacht Teelia Bell, positioned in Koombana Bay had a great view of the yachts while they lapped the bay. This was a new treat for Stuart Thompson and the team who usually monitor the fleet turning in darkness.
In Division Two, Chris Higham’s Argo had suffered in the fickle winds early on in the race, so her navigators called an inside run through the reefs. They report “we passed so close to the beach that the fishermen camping along the shore were spotlighting us!” sounds like they had a bit of fun and enjoyed the flat water and steady offshore easterly wind. They did well on the south bound leg and entered the bay ahead of Giddy Up, Robert Halvorsen, and well clear of their other rivals, Ian Clyne’s Joss and Wasabi, Paul Arns.
Making the best of the breeze, the two front runners were relishing in the southerly breeze for the run home. Indian had passed Walk on the Wildside and the Carkeek 47 had her eye on the 21 year old race record. She wasn’t the only one, both yachts arrived to the finish in record breaking time. Garth Curran’s team did not manage to claim their 10th line honours but they too beat Syrenka’s time, Walk on the Wildside finishing in 18:20:55.
Indian had clearly broken the record by completing the 170 nautical mile course in 17:47:03. The 2016 race course was 1nm longer than previous years, the exact time for the honour board will be even less. There are a number of young guys racing in the fleet and this is fantastic for the future of offshore racing in WA. Carter, owner of Indian, gave his son Ben (22) a taste of offshore racing, something he is passionate about and wanted to share with him. Ben, racing in his first offshore race commented, “this offshore record breaking caper is pretty easy”. That is a fair enough comment, he knows the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club boat had claimed her second race record in WA this season after racing the Geraldton Ocean Classic in record time back in October.
Alan Stein’s GP 42 Dirty Deeds managed to pass Sue Sea on the run back, it may have been the hungry crew working harder than usual, they reported not packing food heating equipment for the race. She finished third over the line and the first three Division One yachts placed in the same order overall on IRC.
Meanwhile, Phil Somerville’s S&S 34 Huckleberry was cruising up the coast in 28 knots of wind. With plenty of rain and squalls around, they ensured that their blind sailor, Ryan was tethered to the yacht, just in case. The weather did not play out well for the three S&S 34’s but they had a good race together anyway. Simon Torvaldsen’s Blondie ahead this time, then Huckleberry and RFBYC’s own Le Jag coming in last. Roger Raymond and crew did well to hang in there when the wind dropped out to nothing in the darkness of Saturday night and came in to the finish at 4:14am taking 34 hours and 2 minutes to complete the race.
Double Handed division, Todd Giraudo’s Kraken, Matt Dickmann’s Fifty Four and Alison Stock’s Selkie finished in that order across the line and overall. The other four retiring due to lack of wind. A huge change from the strong winds and rain squalls earlier in the day.
Giddy Up was the first Division Two yacht across the finish in 24 hours and 24 minutes but was second to Argo on IRC corrected time. Another RFBYC team, Ian Clyne’s Joss, made good progress on the return leg catching up to third across the line but fourth overall, Max Pelleschi’s Prime Factor overtaking them on corrected time.
Well known in Australian yachting circles, Bernie Kaaks followed the race and wrote afterwards “At the exact moment that race leader Indian crossed the South Mole finish line in Fremantle, the tail ender Vision was rounding the turn boat in Bunbury Harbour. There is no disgrace in this statistic – Indian is a 47-foot, carbon fibre ocean greyhound using the very latest technology while Vision is a fiberglass 27-foot Spacesailer 27, identical to the yacht sailed to Britain and back by John Woodhouse. In technological terms, the two yachts are worlds apart. In practical terms, it is a reminder about how accessible the sport of ocean racing has become. There is no doubt that the big budget boats attract most of the attention but with today’s handicapping systems and safety features, ocean racing yachts costing no more than a small car can still enjoy the sport and be competitive.”
The new format of the Friday evening start and additional lap in Koombana Bay is a great start to lifting the profile of this iconic race in the lead up to the 70th edition in 2018. For the competitors who arrived in Bunbury in daylight, they enjoyed seeing the City of Bunbury before turning to head north. This is an opportunity to connect offshore racing with our regional partners at Koombana Bay Sailing Club and share yachting with the locals. Sailing is accessible to everyone, it is a sport for all ages. Yacht owners are always looking for enthusiastic crew and there are plenty of options for kids and young people.
(S.Ghent) RFBYC Offshore Media