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Sunstone's Round White Island Race

01 Dec 2008

Sunstone's Round White Island Race


The Corinthian start was pleasantly scenic, with the sun going down behind over the Auckland skyline. The breeze freshened as we cleared the Motuihe Channel and "Waikiwi II" jumped ahead of the rest of us, despite what appeared to be a small spin and some eccentric mainsail trim, but it worked for them. As we approached Channel Island, just after midnight, it was all change; the wind headed and lightened, spins came down and genoas up, as we all came close hauled, some rather closer than others.


It wasn't long before the real Colville breeze kicked in, as predicted by Uncle Bob, with 20-25 from the east. We changed early to our No. 3 and seemed to gain a good deal by it. By just after Cuvier at dawn, only "Waikiwi II" was just ahead, the others out of sight behind. Thereafter, "Waikiwi" held a good deal lower, but faster and seemed to shoot a gap in the Mercs, while we tacked out to clear Richard's Rock and Red Mercury. With the wind building further we took first one, then two slabs, the wind in the high 20's and some lumpy, backless waves.


However, by noon on Friday, the wind and seas eased and the slabs started to come out and eventually the No 3 was replaced by the genoa. As so often on longer offshore races there was no one in sight, but we were pretty sure that "Waikiwi" and others would be to leeward nearer the coast. This was confirmed by the evening sched, putting "Waikiwi" ahead, the others in the class well behind. Just to keep us on our toes, the wind which had lifted us toward the mark headed and strengthened, forcing a change once again to the No 3 as we beat up toward White Island in the pitch dark and rounded soon after midnight.


In the lee of the Island we were a little slow setting our spin, but soon got going on a fast broad reach, which held through the rest of the night, with the wind around SSE and 15-22 knots. We could see two lights ahead and somewhat to the west, one growing fainter slowly and one rapidly brighter. We guessed that the latter was "Wishbone", which had started Thursday morning, and the former "Waikiwi II", which we later learned had rounded the Island about 40 minutes ahead of us.


With dawn on Saturday, we were beyond the Aldermens, but the wind was easing fast and coming aft. Just before midday we peeled to the .5 oz spin and started to whistle for wind, hoping that a sea breeze might be heralded by the weak convection cloud over the northern Coromandel. Instead the wind died almost completely and we rotated gently, having taken down the spin altogether and set our largest headsail. Eventually in mid-afternoon a weak sea-breeze filled blowing straight from Cuvier Island. The only consolation was that we spotted "Waikiwi" emerging from her gap in the Mercs, well behind us, but unfortunately going a great deal faster, light beating is not Sunstone's forte! Finally in early evening a slightly firmer breeze filled to carry us round Cuvier Island behind "Waikiwi", only to head into the SW just after sunset.


Having caught back up with "Waikiwi" in the light stuff which followed, we managed to keep going west in fits and starts, sometimes with a decent little breeze and sometimes with little or nothing, generally close hauled. In one of the fickle patches we got past "Waikiwi" again and opened out a lead of half a mile or so. Suddenly at about 0130 the wind increased sharply. We had not been listening to the Channel Island reports, but did so now and were alarmed to hear a peak of over 30 knots. We debated a change down to the No 3 again, but as we were only seeing a max of 22, decided to brave it out. We were lucky and in fact the wind steadied to a nice solid 16-18, with quite smooth water, just the kind of thing that "Sunstone" loves - close hauled.


Having steadied, the wind brought us into the Hauraki Gulf somewhat south of Flat Rock, where we tacked onto starboard about the time that we heard the final very satisfactory score in the rugby. We kept the Motuihe option open for some time, but decided that in the fickle conditions it was better to stay in open water for as long as possible, with clear air until we actually had to enter the Rangitoto Channel. We tacked onto port when we could lay south of Tiri. All this seemed to work, as the wind stayed fairly steady, though generally easing as we headed in toward Takapauna. As we hoped the wind also lifted as we closed the shore and in the end we only needed one pair of tacks to carry us along the North Shore.


By now we knew from the morning sched that the rest of the class and in fact the whole fleet was well behind us, but the wind was dying fast and the Sunday morning power boat wakes were churning the harbour into an impenetrable cauldron. To add insult to injury the ebb was just getting going and threatened to take us to St Heliers. Just when we were giving up hope, a zephyr filled from the east and we scrambled to set the light kite which filled beautifully and took us across the harbour to the finish, probably the first and last time we have ever finished first in a fleet.


It was an excellent race, very varied and challenging, with plenty to keep us busy and thinking. It also confirms for us that there is just nothing like offshore racing. Why, oh why isn't there more of it in NZ!


Once again, tired but happy, we were very pleased to win the two-handed division from those stalwarts, Trish and Phil in "Wishbone", as well as winning the IRC and Corinthian divisions and placing second overall to "Starlight Express" on PHRF.


Tom & Vicky Jackson, "Sunstone"