TP52s rule the roost

Light winds and lumpy seas make for challenging conditions at Hamilton Island Race Week

Thursday August 28th 2008, Author: Rob Mundle, Location: United Kingdom
A jittery IRC Grand Prix division 1 fleet lined up for this morning’s Whitehaven Beach Race off the eastern starting line in Fitzalan Passage in a lighter sou’east breeze and lumpy seas. In the countdown to the 10.30am start signal the race committee was calling out those over the start line but for some it was already curtains, even for the headlining acts.

Peter Harburg’s Brisbane-based Reichel Pugh 66 Black Jack was “a bit eager trying to get to the boat end of the start line” then found they couldn’t manoeuvre in among the smaller end of the grand prix fleet and had to re-start.

Despite suffering at least a two minute penalty and a couple of other minor issues around the track, the dynamic duo of Etchells and 2007 America’s Cup sailor Mark ‘Squark’ Bradford and his tactician, round the world sailor Peter ‘Billy’ Merrington, managed to peg back the rest of the fleet to claim line honours by 20 seconds from Andrew Short’s 80 foot maxi Shockwave – Club Marine.

“It’s difficult to build speed and start with the smaller boats when the boat’s not very manoeuvrable. That’s the sacrifice you make sailing a big boat,” said Bradford minutes after claiming his third line honours win from six races.

Describing their entire race as “a bit unorthodox”, Bradford paid full credit to ‘Billy’ Merrington. “The tactics were superb...Billy got us out of trouble.”

It’s rare for Mark Richards to miss a start but today he misjudged the line and was also individually recalled, sending the Bob Oatley owned Wild Oats X back to the start line once they heard the OCS call, which took a little time to filter through to the three-time Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours winning crew.

Bob Steel’s TP52 Quest threw off yesterday’s collision with Surprise Rock and subsequent damage, to record its second win on corrected time putting them one point behind Division 1 series leader Cougar II, Alan Whiteley’s Melbourne based sistership to Quest.

It’s a big effort bringing a boat to Hamilton Island from Melbourne and Whiteley is “quietly confident” that it’s been well worth his while. “We have no great expectations, we are just here to have a good series but having said that, the boys are not making any mistakes and the conditions have been similar to what we are used to on Port Phillip Bay,” said Whiteley this afternoon.

In IRC Grand Prix Division 2 Stephen Ellis’ modified Farr 40 Splash Gordon rallied to win today’s race on corrected time from Nick George’s DK46 Exile.

second today has put them into the top three on the progressive pointscore which still has Rod Jones’ Alegria leading Ray Harris’ Honeysuckle by one point. There were barely two boat lengths between Honeysuckle and Alegria at any stage today, the two creating some action at the top mark rounding when Alegria tried to shoot the mark inside Honeysuckle and almost drifted back onto it.

Kevin Horne’s Elliott 9.6m Wild Spirit from Maroochy River beat the rest of the Performance Grand Prix fleet today, outsailing Garry Holder’s The Real Thing and Walter Carpenter’s Pacific 50 Samarkand.

As the IRC Grand Prix and Performance Grand Prix fleets kept themselves sensible for racing, the remaining divisions enjoyed their second lay day for the week. A steady procession of yachts of all shapes and sizes began heading out of Hamilton Island Harbour early this morning to join the locals and tourists who’d already taken up position on the award-winning Whitehaven Beach.

A huge crowd gathers annually to enjoy the spectacular white silica sand, turquoise waters and to be entertained by the many planned activities including beach cricket and volleyball. Today the Airforce Roulettes RAAF Aerobatic team wowed the crowd with their twists and turns at the Whitehaven Beach Party, the biggest social gathering of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week.

Tomorrow the IRC Division 1 and 2 fleets will sail two windward/leeward races starting from Eastern start line and all other classes will sail a short around the islands race with the course yet to be announced.

Friday’s forecast has the breeze building back up to 15-20 knots from the SE/E for the penultimate day of racing.

In the nine race inaugural South Pacific Cup the Aussies have a handy 20 point lead over the three boat Kiwi team.

Hamiltion Island profiles:

A group of old sailing mates from around the world have gathered this week at the Silver Jubilee Audi Hamilton Island Race Week to campaign the stunning Muir 66 Van Diemen III in its debut regatta.

While sailing dinghies as a youngster in Spring Bay on the Tasmanian east coast, Robbie Vaughan was awestruck when an impressive motor yacht called Van Diemen pulled into the Bay. He vowed then and there that should he own a boat one day, he’d call it Van Diemen and many decades later, he’s campaigning one of the best looking boats in the record 225 strong fleet.

Amongst Vaughan’s crew of nine is Tasmanian educated Charles Blundell, a professional boat delivery skipper better known as ‘Chas from Tas’, and Sydney-based Michael ‘Zappa’ Bell and News Limited columnist Piers Ackerman, the ‘Minister for Diplomacy’ aboard the yacht.

‘Zappa’ met Vaughan and joined him as a crewmember aboard the ocean racer Charisma in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1974. The pair then crossed the Atlantic on that yacht and were part of the crew when Charisma represented America in the Admiral’s Cup in England in 1975. Audi Hamilton Island Race Week is the first time since then that Vaughan and Bell have sailed together.

The boat’s designer, William Muir, is aboard as is Dave Blair, the New Zealand boat builder who constructed the boat from Alaskan yellow and western red cedar at Matakana on the North Island of New Zealand.

The boat was launched in 2005 and went to California for 18 months, where expatriate Vaughan is now living, before returning to Tasmania via Hawaii. Following Audi Hamilton Island Race Week Van Diemen III will cruise to Tasmania for the summer then return to the Whitsundays next year before gearing up for the 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart.

“At some stage we’ve got to do ‘the Hobart’ in order to complete the big three,” said Vaughan. “Our long term plan is to cruise in Australia then after next year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart travel to the USA for the Newport Bermuda Race and contest the Rolex Fastnet Race.”

This is the boat’s first regatta and they are leading the Cruising With Spinnaker Division 1 pointscore series by 2.5 points. Racing finishes this Saturday.

Summing up the week so far, Vaughan says “the racing conditions have been excellent with good competition in the cruising fleet, and we are meeting up with lots of old friends. It’s a very impressive scene and the Oatleys (Island owners) and Audi should be congratulated. This type of regatta doesn’t happen in the US.”

Most of the crew are sleeping on the boat, which is not as rough as it sounds given the boat is resplendent with Huon Pine spa bath, washer/drier and air con.

“On the fun metre so far this year’s Race Week has been right up there,” acknowledges Muir.

‘Chas from Tas’, who has “been to the moon and back” with 22,000 nautical miles alone behind him since last year’s Audi Hamilton Island Race Week.

‘Chas’ is a revered member of the crew, not only for his extraordinary sailing ability but also for his story telling. More than three decades as a professional sailor and boat delivery skipper all over the world means ‘Chaz’ has an extensive library of legendary stories to re-tell, most of them based on misfortune.

His run of bad luck began in the mid 1960s when he was washed off a fishing boat called Truganini and spent 30 minutes in the ocean off the Tasmanian east coast mid-winter and in the middle of the night. “That’s when I learnt to swim,” he chuckles.
He’s been shot at by pirates off Vietnam during a delivery from Hong Kong to Thailand, caught in a typhoon on a Chinese junk and rescued by a 70,000 tonner Italian bolt carrier and in the 1985 Fastnet he was on a boat called Drum that lost its keel and went belly up.

With those stories etched forever in his tanned face, ‘Chas’ will set off from Hamilton Island after Saturday’s closing race to resume his life of moving boats....until next year’s Audi Hamilton Island Race Week when Van Diemen III will return to the stunning playground of the Whitsunday Islands.

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