Race spectators and beachgoers enjoying Valentines Day in North Fremantle were treated to a display of offshore yachts racing close to the shore for the start of the 72nd Bunbury and Return Ocean Race. The fleet of seventeen yachts got underway on Friday evening in a moderate southerly wind. Organisers, Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club brought the start line and first leg to a Day Buoy in close to the beach and encouraged race fans to head down and watch the action.
Two yachts, ‘Argo’ and ‘Al Fresco’, were too eager at the start and had to return after being called over the line early. They would have plenty of time to make up this ground over the 170 nautical mile race south to Bunbury and return. The forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology had the winds turning to the north and reducing in strength through the evening and staying from that direction until the Saturday afternoon seabreezes along the WA coast. It would be a matter of good strategy as well as a bit of luck with the timing for teams hoping to do well in the overall corrected time results.
After an exciting first leg off Port Beach in North Fremantle, the fleet headed west towards Rottnest Island in a moderate southerly wind before making the turn to head south to Bunbury. The faster yachts had a frustrating evening falling into areas of less pressure where the smaller yachts would pick up the rotating wind from behind and catch up to them. At times Phil Somerville-Ryan’s S&S 34 ‘Huckleberry’, at the tail of the fleet, was travelling faster than Craig Carter’s Carkeek 47, ‘Indian’, at the front. An entertaining night for the teams of different sizes racing closely alongside each other.
‘Indian’ was first to the mark boat in Bunbury, arriving at 0734 on Saturday morning. Phil and Danielle from Koombana Bay Sailing Club were waiting on station on their yacht ‘Courtesan’. An hour later ‘Weapon of Choice’ sailed into the bay in a light northerly wind. the blue spinnaker flying on Mark Nagle’s Fred Barrett 35 was quickly packed away and they turned to follow Indian out to sea. Ian Clyne’s Joss, a J 122 had sailed well through the night and was the next boat to Bunbury at around 0900, ahead of ‘CheckMate’ (Geoff Bishop’s Summit King 40) and ‘Obsession’ (MAT 1245 owned by Paul and Ceris Arns) the three led the charge of ten boats rounding within the next hour.
Within that pack were several Division Two teams. The owner/skipper of ‘Crush’ (Sunfast 3600) David Davenport commented “In the middle of the night, most of the yachts were being forced in towards Mandurah in the dying breeze. Our crew did a great job keeping 'Crush' moving in the light winds and keeping us out to sea and west of the Bouvard Reefs. This strategy worked well for us and had us nicely ahead of our rivals ‘Atomic Blonde’ and the new ‘Kraken’, we rounded in Bunbury in touch with the faster boats in the fleet.”
From the turning point in Bunbury, teams had to decide whether to head out to sea or hug the coast for the northbound leg, anticipating a southerly change later in the day. The front of the pack sailed to the west and it was Simon Torvaldsen’s JPK 10.80 ‘Atomic Blonde’ with Mike Finn at the helm who broke the trend. Bill Henson’s ‘Circa’ (C&C 115) and the Double Handed team, Todd Giraudo and Dubbo White, on ‘Kraken’ (Jeanneau Sunfast 3300) followed in along the coast and these teams made some big gains.
The rest of the day would be a race for the smaller boats. The wind soon turned south and the fleet came charging up the coast, the faster yachts had been sailing to windward early on and covered a lot more distance in the race.
Many teams in the 72nd Bunbury and Return Ocean Race were also preparing for the Fremantle to Bali Race. From the yacht ‘Obsession’, Ceris Arns commented that this was the best race to Bunbury so far for their team. The weather was good and the racing was close, they really enjoyed it. Racing with a different mainsail for the event, this was a good opportunity for the team to make their final preparations and test equipment for the 1440 nautical mile race to Bali in May.
Back with the Division 2 boat ‘Crush’, David and his team were out to sea with the Division 1 yachts who had also considered the change to the seabreeze direction would arrive to them sooner. They watched ‘Atomic Blonde’ and ‘Kraken’ running up the shore inside Bouvard Reefs and figured they had lost their advantage. Setting their A3, ‘Crush’ started to pull them back a bit. The wind turned further behind and increased to a steady 18 knots and ‘Crush’ changed to an S2 sail.
It was an exciting race to watch on the race tracker for supporters ashore. At Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club, there was a group closely watching the overall results, cheering for their mate Ken Stevenson in the team on ‘Crush’. Ken is the Grandson of G.K Stevenson who launched ‘Maid Marion’ the graceful Sunset class yacht in the 1940’s. She was the fastest yacht in the very first race from Fremantle to Bunbury in 1948 with Keith Stevenson at the helm and Merv Finn as navigator. The following year the Bunbury and Return Ocean Race began. Keith Stevenson’s Maid Marion placed first overall in the race and she was the fastest too taking 37 hours and 24 minutes, a lot longer than the modern fleet.
At the finish it was Craig Carter’s ‘Indian’ across the line in fastest place taking 22 hours and 52 minutes, five hours longer than the current race record held by the team from the 2016 event. While it was a slower race for all of the bigger yachts, the fleet was a lot closer together this year. The last boat to finish was Huckleberry, coming in just before midnight on Saturday after 30 hours and 17 minutes. Phil and team were the winners of the 2019 race overall on IRC but this year she came in 6th overall and a very close 2nd on PHS handicap to Clodagh Irwin’s ‘French Kiss’ from Division 1.
Overall on IRC corrected time Division 2 boats took six of the top seven placings including the Double Handed team of ‘Cannonball’, a Farr 1104 in 4th position. Dan and Josh are relatively new on the WA offshore scene but recently contested the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on another yacht.
‘Crush’ was the winner with ‘Kraken’ only seconds behind. Ian Clyne’s ‘Joss’ placed third and was ecstatic to place first in Division 1, the team were very pleased with their race coming in ahead of ‘CheckMate’, ‘Weapon of Choice’ then John Rayner’s BW 36 ‘Al Fresco’ on corrected time.
Commenting on their win in the 72nd Bunbury and Return Ocean Race, skipper David Davenport said “We were wrapped to win overall, the first such win for ‘Crush’. We started racing offshore last year in the 2019 Halls Head race so it was great to finish off our first full year offshore with our first win overall. It’s been a fun adventure and a very steep learning curve and the help and support we have had from everyone has been amazing.”
Watch the race replay using the YB Races app and search for ‘Bunbury and Return 2020’ or use this link to view on the website (tablets and phones must use the app) – http://yb.tl/bunret2020
For race results, images and other information please visit the event page on the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club website – http://www.rfbyc.asn.au/content/on-water/fleets/72nd-bunbury-and-return-ocean-race.php