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2014 SSANZ ROUND NORTH ISLAND RACE Pepe's race report

04 Mar 2014

Pepe RNI


Leg 1

The first leg was looking to be a superb leg for Pepe with aft of the beam reaching for a majority of the way. We got away to a good start on STB near the Devonport wharf end with masthead gennaker set and gybed onto port to lay down through to North head. Our peel to the fractional code zero (FRO) didn?t quite go according to plan as we ended up getting caught above Coppelia who had dropped their kite earlier and was sailing a higher course so we didn't have any room to come down. Westie did a fantastic job of keeping it under control but we still managed to get the halyard around the top of the square head main. We left it there as we figured it would be easier to clear when we reefed later in the leg. Once tidied up we went the staysail/#4 inside the FRO and were off. The boat felt good 3 sail reaching but we needed plenty of breeze.  When it lightened off we peeled back to the big masthead pink gennaker for the ride down to Kawau. We were in good shape at kawau with Marshall law just ahead, Coppelia just behind and a few other big boats around us. A few bursts into the early teens and the boat felt really good.

From there it was just a drag race as the breeze came forward and we had to drop the gennaker. We went between Full main, staysail and FRO in the lulls to reefed main and FRO, and then at one stage had the gennaker up to get below the hen and chicks. After then it got a bit tight for us- just forward of the beam and we watched the bigger boats stretch their legs. From Brett to the finish it just kept getting tighter with about 60 TWA for most of it and we were back to the jib, finally going hard on just after the Cavalli Islands. We could see on the tracker the Berenice, Montego bay and Midnight Express all gaining rapidly on us with the extra 7+ foot of waterline length in the tight reaching conditions.  As the new day dawned we were in a tight pack locked together, Little did we know it at that stage but that was to be the same boats we would battle it out with for the whole rest of the race especially Berenice and Midnight express who we spent many days dunking it out with on the water, and Montego bay on handicap. Luckily we had a small beat into the finish in 12-15kts of wind and flat water so managed to hold off the onslaught to take the gun for our division and with it our worst handicap result of the race 4th. The was not a huge amount we could have done differently other than maybe hold higher after Cape Brett. We had pushed it hard but there was too much waterline length reaching for us to be competitive on handicap against the bigger boats. Montego bay sailed a flawless leg to take our division as well as overall on handicap.


Leg 2

(MORE THAN) A few rums in Mongonui and it seemed it was time to depart again. Mongonui had once again looked after us with spectacular hospitality and we could have happily stayed for another week. Forecast was initially looking like a nice kite ride to the top then a reach across the top followed by a beat with a right hand lifting (Westerly) breeze and tight reach down the coast. Well what we got off the line was quite different to expected. A very night northerly breeze with rain squalls and big wind shifts greeted us. We got an Ok start but got caught on the wrong side of a rain squall and had to fight our way out of a bad position. The end result when the breeze actually filled in was pretty good with us ahead of gale force and not far behind Coppelia, with the Midnight express breathing down our necks as we all tight reached on port heading towards North Cape. The fishing was good and we had a couple of good hook ups, managing to land a nice Skipjack Tuna which we had for dinner.  

We were the first of the group to start easing sheets and reaching lower as I anticipated the breeze lifting as we approached North Cape due the geographic nature of the large bay. We 3 sail reached with FRO and staysail set, steering about 15 degrees low on course. Sure enough as we approached North Cape most of the other boats had set gennakers to soak down in the aft pressure and we were back alongside Coppelia and Gale Force again. The reach across the top was stunning with a spectacular sunset over the Cape Reinga sand dunes, fresh fish for dinner and some happy hour beers. Good times. We hardened up around the Columbia sand back which was running  a big surf and headed offshore in the 15-20kt southerly. It was pretty lumpy all night and not the most pleasant sailing but a full moon helped to settle us into the routine of Tasman Sea sailing. I always wanted to be positioned outside the fleet and one of the last boats to tack, hoping for more breeze and an earlier lifting shift. Also I wanted a bit of gauge to be able to chase the squalls down to make small gains on the leeward bunch as it was looking like quite squally conditions further down the track. We had no cell phone so no tracker and had lost touch with the bulk of the fleet but had seen a number of boats tacking in so figured we were close to being the most outside. We gave it a short dig to see what the angle was like but I was not happy so we headed back offshore again. Shortly after we saw our friends on Midnight Express crossing just behind and I figured we were so evenly matched in speed that they would be a great ?pace boat? for the 300nm lay through to Egmont. On these types of long legs its often easy to get complacent about the boat speed and sail changes ect but if you have an evenly matched boat right there then you both push each other hard and generally gain on the rest of the fleet. So there we were for 2 days, us and midnight express battling it out. Sometimes we would gain, sometimes they would gain but generally we were pretty close and within sight the whole time. We went between 3 sail reaching with the FRO and staysail, full main, reefed main, the masthead zero when it went lighter. Even the masthead gennaker featured during a squall in the wee hours of the night where we crossed Midnights transom at 16kts by mere boat lengths while they were dropping their spinnaker. But yet again by day break we were together again. The fleet slowly converged on Egmont and when I had reception for the tracker I was pretty happy with how we were looking on the rest of our division. The breeze was forecast to swing aft and possibly build for the last bit to wellington. This could be our time to shine as Pepe?s favourite conditions are fresh running. After spending huge amounts of time in the cook strait area I was aware of the fact that the breeze basically always blows north or south through the strait as its a natural funnel. Given this fact I wanted to send it hard with our biggest gear on until something made us drop it- either land or wind.... So we hoisted the big masthead gennaker and were off. At first it was only blowing around 15-20kts with a few decent puffs and it was very nice sailing with boat speed in the early-mid teens. After a 6 hr stint on the helm I handed over to westie and had a little lie down in the cockpit. I had just got to sleep and we did a bit of a skid, after assessing the situation we discovered that the wind had actually built to 28-30+kts and it was pretty hairy with the big gear on, especially for a young fella in the middle of the night. Even I was struggling to keep it on its feet now as the boat speeds regularly soared in to the late teens and we tried to keep the boat under the sails. Our course was still about 30degree low of where we wanted to go and it just wasn't sustainable. We dropped the masthead gennaker in over 30kts of wind and set the fractional gennaker. Well what an improvement, the boat was just on rails, could point it wherever I wanted totally under control and doing some proper sending with gusts into the mid 30s and very large seas. Our boat speed seems to over read but we were regularly into the early 20s and topped out at 26.58kts. I suspect our real boat speed max was somewhere around 22kts. As dawn presented itself the wind eased slightly and with it our chance to capture the scene on camera. Luckily there was still enough breeze to be hooning and the quick edit of the video received over 14,000 views within the week! It certainly was a spectacular session and I'm sure terminal velocity was reached. The wind slowly eased right down and we peeled to the masthead gennaker again and then to the masthead spinnaker as the breeze really swung aft through the straight as expected. This was short lived and we had to peel back to the fractional gennaker with a reefed main as the breeze picked right back up again and we wanted a manageable sail plan for the wind factory and tide rips along the south coast.  Just as we got the first puff out of the wind factory the tack block on the end of the prod shattered and were left bareheaded until the FRO was hoisted. Shortly after that the main was hoisted to full and we still felt slow. 2 back ups latter the problem was discovered as a large chunk of weed floated off on the second attempt. Coppelia was right on our stern and keeping us honest for the 25kt beat up wellington harbour. Its amazing how long that beat feels when you have a team like Sally and Rob right behind you but we managed to hold them off.  End result for us, the double line and handicap win in our division and 2nd overall behind Bushido. All of that was done in the last 15hrs of the race where we sent it hard. We both had worked hard for the entire leg and I had been at the helm for 15hrs straight. Time for a rum and debrief....


Leg 3


From a long way out we knew this leg was going to be upwind, at least we had a glimmer of hope for a hoon down to Palliser before beating up the notorious Wairapa coast. The forecast was 25kts but after doing that coast no less than 20 times previously, I knew that a gradient breeze of 25kts would end up being much more. Pepe is a 30 year old 30ft Sports boat, designed to go fast downwind and not upwind.  An upwind leg was about as far from our conditions as possible other than a very tight reach such as the last part of leg 1. At least we had time to mentally prepare for it.... As start time came the idea of any downwind was quickly given up and we settled in for a beat out of the harbour. We had a good start and maintained a good position as the 10kt southerly breeze slowly died out at Bearing Head. Us Coppelia and gale force were VMG running together in under 5kts of breeze with 2 kts of tide against us and making little headway. Coppelia just managed to sneak around the point and disappeared off as the sun set over the south island.  It was a long night with very little wind coming from every direction and tide working against us. We knew that whoever got around the point first and into the northerly breeze in Palliser bay would put big miles on other boats so we worked it hard changing sails regularly to try and maximise every puff. Finally we got a sniff of breeze and made it out into Palliser Bay were a 15-20kt northerly awaited. We peeled from the mast head zero to the FRO and had a nice sail across before sailing into a pack of lights where the whole leading fleet was larked up under cape Palliser in a very sloppy sea. It was uncomfortable and the kind of conditions that are very hard on the gear. We had a few shackles work undone with all the flogging. Fishing was good though and we landed 2 kingfish with a couple that got away. Finally the wind filled in and very quickly we were going upwind in 25kts. We were out of cell reception at this stage so I had to resort to the VHF for weather information, sure enough the forecast for Castle Point had been upgraded to 35kts and a Gale warning was in place. We were in for a horrible few days....

 We settled in to the routine,  bailing, driving, hiking, eating, sleeping and getting wet.. The only respite we had was a few more fish to add to our tally and our regular 5pm happy hour where we would have a beer (sometimes 2 if it was real nice) and a bag of crisps(you have to accentuate the S's). This was a time to have a laugh and have a good catch up. When we finally got cell reception the tracker news was not that great, Berenice as expected had really taken off and thrived in the conditions but at least we had managed to hold Montego Bay off. The other big boats in our division were too close to comfort and we were going to have to work it hard. The breeze was regularly into the mid 30s and were comfortable most of the time with our small #3 jib and 2 reefs in the main.

As we cleared Castle point he worst was finally over and the breeze and waves settled and slowly eased. It sure had been a tough few days. We thought the kingfish might be better along the shore so chucked a dig right into the beach but all we got were Kawhai... Actually we discovered the tidal relief in there was pretty good so hugged the shore in the dying breeze to try and get around the last big hurdle- Cape kidnappers which seemed to loom there in front of us for days. The wind had really eased right off and it seemed that we would never get around the elusive cape as we sat there with the #3 set as a "flopper" to try and make the most of the sail flapping back and forth. I had designed this sail to not overlap the mast so we could sheet it at the mast base and effectively flop your way forward. It worked well and we steadily pulled away from the lights behind us. My theory is if your sail is not set then you need the flopper and the results can be quite staggering. We had 4 sails setup ready for immediate employment, the #1 light jib, #3 jib, Code zero and masthead gennaker. At about 1am a very light land breeze filled in off the shore. We were quick to set the masthead gennaker and run down to the tip of the cape in good company with gale force and midnight express for the dawn reach across Hawkes bay to the finish line off Napier Harbour. Midnight express got us by 36 seconds on line and gale force was a further few minutes behind us. Final result for team Manson Pepe was a double line and handicap win again which was a real surprise given the mostly upwind leg.

This now put us in a comfortable  first on line and handicap in our division and 4th overall just 1 point off 3rd with one leg to go. We really had earned a rum or 10........


Leg 4

Once again the forecast for this leg was strong upwind, Not ideal and we knew we were going to have to work particularly hard to maintain our lead in Division 4.

There was about a 4-5kt NE for the start, we got a clean start at the pin but I had spotted some more breeze to the right so took a punt and were the first boat to tack to the right before we got rolled by some of the faster boats in the fleet. At first it looked pretty horrible but slowly we rolled overtop of the bulk of the fleet with more pressure and were in a very strong position. A few hours into the race as the breeze slowly built we passed in front of truxton, coppellia and a bunch of other much stronger upwind performers. The fishing here was sensational and we landed 6 Albacore Tuna between the start and Portland island to take our tally so far to 8 Albacore, 3 skipjack, and 2 kingfish. The wind had now built to 15-20kts and a nasty chop had developed, not fishing weather so we pulled the line in and settled in for the long few days of upwind sailing. We had gone straight from the code zero to the number 2 jib to save a jib change, I think this really paid off as we watched a bunch of boats battling with light air genoa changes. I wanted to come into portland island from the left hand side, getting the benefit of flatter water and a right hand geographical wind shift. Sure enough this paid off and we went around in good company with Marshall Law behind and truxton just up ahead. The next tactical decision was which way to go on the beat to east cape. I thought the breeze was left enough for some breeze to be coming off the land and I wanted to tuck into poverty bay and make the most of the left hand/offshore breeze coming out of Gisborne. Again, this paid dividends and we were still punching well above our weight within the fleet. From there it was just a slog, 25-30kts with no real tactics other than watching the tide. The seas were big and sharp and we took a big hit breaking the main bulkhead. After monitoring it for a while we decided it was not a major structural failure (just a fuse we called it...) and there was no further movement. We tacked out for a few hours and back in for a few hours. We watched Berenice sail up to us and fly past with not much we could do. Its simple logic that a 39 footer will be faster uphill so we didn't get to upset about it. The only boat that could really topple us off the podium was Montego bay and as she is very shallow draft they lacked a bit of height uphill in the chop and were still behind but right there ready to take advantage of any error we should make.

The next tactical decision was which way to approach East cape. The breeze was forecast to do a 90 degree swing to the left so I wanted to hug the shore hard and come out right on the cape or even inside East island. There were a bunch of boats including Berenice who were outside us and I was sure the inside would be the best way to go. We tacked right on the island and went left, short tacking up the coast to hicks bay before the big shift came and we headed offshore. A quick check of the tracker showed that we had put in excess of 15nm on the boats outside us overnight who had continued north instead of tacking left and were caught on the outside of the rotation.

From here it was another drag race to Colville with the breeze going between 25 and 40kts and huge seas. We got a bit of a hiding here but pushed hard with 2 reefs and an outboard sheeted jib. Marshall law and Notorious slowly got away from us but we were happy to just be in the same bit of ocean as them! Eventually at around Cuvier it swung aft enough for us to set the fractional code zero again, followed by the staysail as the breeze lightened. Near Colville it really swung aft and we spent 15min on the masthead gennaker before going to the masthead code zero to get through the hole under Corromandel and back to the jib for the beat home. As we got closer to the noises the breeze started dying and we ended up with zero wind totally becalmed for 5 hrs just 15nm from the finish. This was painful as we watched the rest of our fleet rounding Colville with the nowcasting saying 10kts at channel island while we went nowhere. Luckily they started to slow down as well as they entered the gulf. Back up with the 3 flopper but it really didn?t help as there were no waves and actually zero wind at all. It was intensely frustrating so we got the soft bait rod out and tried to catch a snapper to round off the fishing tally but didn?t have much luck. Finally after almost breaking us a light NE sea breeze filled in and we had a good tussle with Marshal Law who had broken their boom overnight and were reduced to a double reefed main. Both of us VMG running down the outside of Rangitoto and into the harbour trying to make the most of the fickle wind. We peeled to the masthead spinnaker to give us more tactical options. The crossover for us is 7 kts, under that gennaker is better and over that spinnaker is better. At times the gennaker would have been better but the spinnaker overall gives you much more options especially considering we were fighting tide and gybing back and forth across the harbour is not that beneficial. I knew this sea breeze would not last all the way up the harbour as it seldom does and at some stage the west coast SW breeze would take over. For us this change happened at North head  and we did 3 quick peels back to the gennaker then to the zero for the reach to the finish. Auckland city had never looked so beautiful as we sailed towards the sun setting under the harbour bridge and the city lights flickering. This was the point that we realised the campaign was almost over and we would actually make it to the finish. It was a tremendously humbling feeling, on one hand we were glad it the punishment was over and we had made it in one piece but also sad to see it come to an end. Westie had been simply fantastic in both the buildup and the actual event and showed maturity far beyond his 21 years on this planet. The boat had held strong and I had gained so much respect for the 30+ year old Ross design.

As we crossed the line I could hear my 3 young boys screaming "Go Daddy, Go Pepe" amongst the tooting of car horns and flashing of headlights from the break wall as the Gun for division 4 line honours echoed across the harbour.

We had done it, not just completed the race but against all odds had actually got a fantastic result of line and handicap in division 4 as well as 5th overall. We took line honours in every leg and the double in the last 3. Ironically our worst result was the first leg that we thought would be our best leg and our best legs were the ones that looked atrocious for a Ross 930.

It sure was a challenge but as they say the greater the challenge the bigger the feeling of achievement when you finish. I think we can be proud of what we achieved.


We had 3 goals with the campaign, win our division in the simrad, white island  and RNI race. It seemed like a tough ask but in the end we over achieved this by also wining the white island race overall as a shorthanded entry and also hope to get the fishing trophy for the RNI race as well.

A very successful campaign.






Special thanks must go to James? father Steve Horner who gave us his boat and dedicated so much of his own time and money to get us to the start line. Steve followed us around the island as shore team making sure the boat was mint and ready to go for each leg. We own him bigtime. Also on our shore team was James' brother Aiden who was a great help.


Our principal sponsors Manson Anchors who over and above their sponsorship agreement  brought us a Gopro camera so we could film the adventure and also rebuilt our 30 year old rudder gudgeons to make sure we got to the finish.


Line 7 provided us with some outstanding kit, this really made us look like a professional team and turned heads wherever we went. Small touches like water proof gear bags with our logo printed on them made the difference. The wet weather gear was superb and we were warm and dry for the entire race. These guys really think about their gear and it works and fits nicely. James and I had the opposite ends of the size spectrum, I was the biggest gear they had and James was the smallest!


Phil Hart and Hart and Associate charted accountants who paid our entry fee and supplied us with a chartplotter. Phil owns a sistership to Pepe and is a passionate sailor. His support allowed us to build the much needed and well used #3 headsail.


Karver systems provided us with a furling unit and some other deck gear which made life easy and allowed for the fractional zero to be furled with a locking furler so we could leave it up without worrying about it unfurling. This was used a huge amount and was pivotal to our success.


My wife Sara who battled on at home with our 3 boys Nathan  5, luke 3 and Bradley 1 while I gallivanted around the north island doing what I love not to mention the hours of preparation before the race and our own money spent. She never once complained and was supportive to the idea right from the outset. Then to bring all 3 down at 9.15pm on a school night to welcome us at the dock was amazing. She is the best wife/mother a man could ask for.


North Sails, Both Westie and I work for North Sails. As always they offered plenty of support and allowed us to build the sails we needed for the race. I had spent a huge amount of time with the sail designers Magnus and Burns to come up with a sail program that really worked. The product and service from North Sails is second to none.


To all the people who supported us with donations of gear, discounts, money and time- Thank you, your support meant a lot to us and made this campaign and the result possible.


SSANZ, Jon, Cam, Steve, Herdy, Chelsea, Red and many others for running such an epic event.


Last but not least Westie for making it all happen.....