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Midnight Express RNI Report

25 Mar 2011

Round The North Island 2 Handed Race 2011

Midnight Express: One of 2 RPNYC starters. A modified one off Birdsall 40, squaretop main, running topmast, fractional and checkstays, slab reefing and hanked headsails. Masthead kite around 112m2. Perfect for 2 handed his and hers offshore racing!!

(Yeah right!)

John Osborne & Bretta Jarden the crazy crew!!

This race turned out to be the most challenging in SSANZ history. We certainly put the boat and ourselves through testing conditions, physically, mentally and to finish in the top 3 of our division & IRC, a very rewarding achievement.

Sincere thanks to Geoff, Deb, Tony & Vesna for their support and help, and to all of those who turned up in Wellington to help tie up, fold sails and revive us.

Also thanks to Gordy, Matt, Jilly and co from Duffy's for their help with our prep.

As we were to discover, this race would be all about Prep!

North sails who did a great job- we had no problems with sails it was us who couldn?t keep up!

Leg 1 Auk - Mangonui

The shortest but slowest leg in very light airs from variable to 10 kn. After a slightly dodgy start, (touched the outer mark) we were soon at it and fighting hard for position on the track. There were frustrating times sitting in hot temperatures and sloppy swell. We inched along with our masthead kite, gybing, being a hero 1 minute, then a zero as the variable conditions tested our sanity. All that said, we were doing fine, racing closely with Mr Roosevelt, Bird on a wing, and Truxton until we passed Cape Brett in 1-5 knots of air and sloppy swell, and headed for the Cavallis. Another test as the wind gradually headed us down towards the Cavalli passage. A place I wanted nothing to do with as we?d never been there and there were rocks and tide and things I felt better not dealing with in the dark. Of course then for the few boats that went that way, it paid, they did their rock hopping and carried a light breeze inshore to the finish. This race had just taught us lesson 1 about doing your homework! Typical finish line, right inside the harbour and dead on the nose all the way with early morning stillness threatening to becalm us. A 5th Div 3 and a pleasing 2nd on IRC was enough to keep up our spirits, as was a refreshing 24 hrs with great hospitality and good food from the Mangonui Locals.

Leg 2 Mangonui - Wellington

Began with another slow start picking the breeze out of Doubtless Bay & up to North Cape by sunset. Rounding Nth Cape with flat water light airs, amazing moonlight, and a cruise ship with 36 yachts on their radar who thought it best to stop while we all crossed tacks around her. Rounding Cape Reienga, the fleet split in all directions with building wind on the nose 30-35 kn & rough seas.

Some yachts took the opportunity then, and for one reason or another pulled out and ran back to North Cape. And so the fleet thinning process began.

We realized the harsh reality of what was ahead of us. It was obvious very quickly that we needed to reduce sail & were down to 3 reefs and the no. 5 jib by afternoon. Slowing the boat down seemed prudent at the time as we began to wonder how much crashing and bashing the boat would take falling off steep short seas for the next 3 days. . We had been up most of the night and day. Fatigue was setting in so watches were down to 45 mins. I literally "hit the wall" and needed to eat and sleep. At the next sked we realized that little sails and the autopilot weren?t doing us any favours in the competition, as we were 60 nm behind our division leader. We increased the sail area to push the boat a little harder and stop wincing at each creak as the boat was coping well. We choose a "middle track" as we felt the sea conditions a little easier. We later were to discover that going wide was a better option as Mark and Pete off Non Stop graciously pointed out over a rum in Wellington!.

Our next challenge was the cargo ship that suddenly altered course and headed straight for us. Our only escape was to bear away and run with it until we could take its stern, a close call, as it was no more than 50 meters away! We later learnt that one of the other yachts, who happened to be on the other side, had radioed the ship so its sudden course change was to avoid them!

The news was starting to come in over the radio of broken masts, wobbly keels and injured crew. We wondered if we were doing the right thing. The wind dropped to 15kn off Cape Taranaki, early morning, but only briefly and by 7am that morning we found ourselves beating into a 30-40 kn south easter, at best, laying Farwell and yes, back to 3 reefs with the storm jib thrown in for good measure. This stuck all day and little progress was made down course by anyone in the most testing conditions of the leg. The seas were at times up around 5m, very steep, with white water breaking, and, crashing off them was sometimes unavoidable. Midnight express was stellar at getting us through this, there were some concerning times during the day and some big crashes. At one point I made sure Bretta had the raft and grab bag set for easy deployment- just in case! Some of the boats were resting at New Plymouth and Durville Island having worn themselves out over the last 3 days. We saw this as an opportunity to make up for earlier lost ground and decided to push on to Wellington. The gale was now abating and by around 4am we were off Stephens, laying Kapiti and approaching home turf.

The South Easter died off Kapiti and sun shone so it was time to dry out body and boat. Midnight Express looked like a Chinese laundry everything soaked! By mid morning we had Northerly 15-20, the masthead kite and full main running in flat seas towards Cook Strait. A fantastic ride with a drop then gybe at Terawhiti followed by hoisting the A5, staying in close to avoid the adverse tide and making 14 kn over ground. This of course ended in a big skid (no tears) & emergency drop, no probs as we had our third crew member old "Martin Breaker " ready and on the bow to help with the drop (he was awesome!). Finally the usual beat up Wellington Harbour, even more challenging with only one primary winch in operation to for the jib and 5 ships to avoid past Barrets Reef, before an awesome welcome from the team on Te Ruru at the finish.

We were holding 5th PHRF div 3 and 2nd IRC behind Akatea. and we were still in it! A reasonable result we thought, considering!

A look around the club at the remaining competitors revealeda whole bunch of hard ass people in well prepped boats still ready to race hard. Beating any of them wasn't going to be easy.

Leg 3 Wellington to Napier.

A well executed delay in the start time meant we had a little more time to rest up before the next leg.

The best thing about this leg was the fact that we managed to get out of the pens at Chaffers backwards, in gale conditions, in one go, without hitting anything.!

From there on in we had engine problems, first a brand new impellor that wouldn't impel for more than 10minutes without the engine overheating, then a fuel blockage, which meant no power. Then to top it off the new Raymarine pilot seized up on us. Apparently, from water leaking down the ram and frying the motor.

A conservative start for us with 2 reefs and main only was a good option at the time until we got the gybe done leaving the harbour. We shook a reef and went with the A5 towards Baring Head only to skid with it in the still gusty and shifty conditions and have the snap shackle on the sheet let go, which made for some physical bow work for Bretta as she dealt with the foredeck drop. (Very well I might add!) We gathered ourselves for a while and had a drink and a rest then raised the J2 headsail and settled down a bit. Interestingly there were no more kites from any one really for a while as we all headed for Palliser. Pepe were always keen, but one had to be careful shorthanded in breeze as one wrong move could cost you your race.

The rest of the leg was very tiring with constant sail changes, kites up and down, gybes and headsail changes. Eventuating with some of the worst conditions of the race off Cape Kidnappers, going from becalmed conditions at 6am to North 40-50 by 8am and very short sharp seas. We had an altercation with a big wave here and for the second time I had to check with Bretta that the life raft and grab bag were ready to go if needed.

(Thank god they weren't cause for the 2 or so hours we had these conditions it was really crap and being in a raft would have been no fun!) One thing we realized on leg 2 was the importance of pacing ourselves sleep wise whilst keeping the energy levels up with constant food and water intake. Literally you could hit the wall half way through a sail /reef change, stop, eat and then find the energy to continue before collapsing in a heap again. Eventually we made Kidnappers after having our cage well and truly rattled, only to find we were being run down by a very powered up Caro Vita. More sail changes and we managed to fight her off for a while but she pipped us on the line by 17 seconds.

Geoff, Deb, Tony, Vesna and Pete Grey all made the trip north by car in support of the now only Port Nick Wellington boat left in the regatta and their help was much appreciated once more on our arrival. We were exhausted and every sail in our wardrobe needed flaking and packing away. They did that, we drunk beer!

We dropped to 8th Div 3 and 5th IRC for the leg. Meaning we were now 2nd equal with Open Country on IRC Overall and 5th Overall div 3. There were very few points in it and we needed a strong finish in the final leg to stay in the top numbers. The encouraging news was that a southerly was due. Awesome, finally some solid downwind! After some relaxing R&R including an entertaining wine trail and prize giving we awoke on start day to a storm force Southerly and rain that no one really wanted to go sailing in. David Cooke postponed us 24 hrs. Another good call from the race management.

Leg 4 Napier to Auckland

Finally. Some serious downwind was apon us. With a forecast of SE 30-35 outside the bay and a nice 15-20 to start on we were quite happy to once again start conservatively with main only and wait for an opportunity to hoist the kite once underway. We had no autopilot on this leg so manouvers and sail changes were going to be a bit hectic. Most of the fleet went right off the line while us Coppelia, and Physical Favours went left. I'm sure we made a gain on the fleet by Portland Island, as there were still a number of boats behind us.

Once out in the real weather Midnight started to take off in the 3-5 meter steep seaway. We still had 6 or so hours of daylight left and I couldn't resist he temptation to put the A5 gennaker on and go for it Steering the 120 angle required was good for the conditions and boy did we take off. The plan was to go hard and wide on starboard while it was daylight then button off a bit for the night with a headsail and soak low to make up for the previous height. Eventually gybing for East Cape. Once the A5 was up I actually realized what I had done! We were now doing 14-17knots fairly solid surfing down waves and some times poking our nose in white water to the mast. Midnight is a solid steer in those conditions with that sail, very stable and fast.

Awesome with a full crew, a little unnerving just us two. Bretta didn't let go of the sheet and trimmed mostly while I steered although there was a time for a while I had the sheet in one hand and the helm in the other doing 17.8 kn down a wave.

We skidded out not long after that. Reaction times for 2 people are a little slower than full crew so we thought it prudent on dusk to drop that A5 (Martin Breaker helped!) and run under main and headsail, then eventually, main only. Still doing 10-12kn!

30 minutes later we heard that Pepe had lost the top of her rig whilst running under spinnaker, and were retiring to Gisborne under the watchful eye of local fishing vessel the "Voyager". We felt for them, as recovering a broken rig in those conditions would have been very difficult. A sobering thought, and one that kept us a little less gung ho for the rest of the run to East Cape. We rounded early morn in a dropping SE and eventually parked for 10 hours or so with Caro Vita just astern and Coppelia just ahead. Not really knowing where any one else was or whether they were sailing or not was a little worrying. Skeds were done by VHF, SSB and satphone. Unless you actually asked Maritime radio for everyone?s position (which took ages) you really didn?t know. Fortunately most of the fleet had parked for the day with the exception of the tail enders who rounded in the daytime saw what was going on and did the old "buffalo girls go round the outside" and like 50miles round the outside went Open Country, sailing the whole time to put herself, not in the lead, but in a very strong handicap position. Nice work. One that would ultimately take second place on IRC from us by 1 point.

Knowing this by the afternoon sked I was determined to get going. We found a sliver of Southeast around 1600 hours that built in strength. We managed to hold it through to Colville during a hard long night of Masthead spinnaker running at between 9-14knots.

I thought if were going to do this its right now! So we hung it all up all night, with minimal sleep and nothing broke! It is actually possible to steer and sleep at the same time! Morning saw us in 5th position on line behind Akatea, Karma Police, M1 and Zindabar! The rest of the fleet were behind us with Surreal (first 47.7) and Coppelia (exceptionally well sailed Farr 38) a little close for comfort. As the wind lightened and came forward Surreal passed us. But it was all on between us and Coppelia. Slowly the PHRF boat pulled us in and eventually we succumbed to her enormous masthead kite as we matched gybes and then tacks up to the finish in ghosting breeze. This made us 7th on line for the leg, 1st PHRF div3, 3rdOverall div 3, and 3rd IRC for the leg and overall. We were rapt and to be at the after party on David Cookes Launch "Trinidad", in this company was a really satisfying end to a tough race.

On this leg I think we kept up with the boat. Would we do it again?..probably!