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Topflight's pre race thoughts and prep

22 Feb 2008

It's never my intention to wake up in the morning and decide to make a bad decision, but by the time you read this I will be halfway around the North Island as a participant in the two handed race, and may well be thinking that it's a really bad idea.    The reality of battling into 30 knot headwinds, with a 2 metre cross swell, sharing the yacht with someone who hasn't showered for 4 days and makes tea that tastes like brussel sprouts could well make sitting in the office answering e-mails sound suddenly appealing.


Why? The decision to enter the race is easy, and let's be honest here, if you were to tell your boss or partner that you want 3-ish weeks off to cruise around the North Island, they're likely to say "@&*% off", but tell them your doing a race and all of a sudden its "wow, what a challenge, good luck".  The downside is that all of a sudden your workmates are running a sweepstake on the time it will take, the injuries you'll get, and who gets to have your new computer, car park, window desk if you don't make it.


Which boat do you use for a race such as this? Again an easy decision; whatever one you can lay your hands on.  In our case, as no-one was offering us a fully spec'ed Open 60, it's the families 20 year old Mull 9.5. Is it big enough, fast enough, strong enough? Who knows, you do what you can, make the best of the situation and besides - we're off to sail round the North Island!


The decision on who to go with was a little more difficult.  My wife Sarah was the obvious choice, but that would mean including our 8 month old son, who Sarah refused to go without.  That would therefore make a crew of 3, which apparently isn't allowed under the rules.  Mind you, if the handicappers had ever sailed with an 8 month old I'm sure they would have given us a 500 mile head start plus further concessions for the nappy changing and feeding difficulties in 25 knots.  What was needed was someone who could deal with long periods of monotony, interspaced with short bursts of intense adrenaline, someone who didn't mind being cold, wet, and generally miserable, and was willing to live on dry crackers and the remains of  the day before yesterdays congealed casserole.  This narrowed the choices down to either former members of Captain Scotts South Pole expedition (unsuitable due to Zimmer frame constraints), or ex-mountaineering friends.  Anyway I managed to convince Blair that it would be a sunny relaxing break away from the hassles of city life, and that there would always be land on the left hand side of the boat should he feel the need for a latte and promised that if he came along the catering would be out-sourced. Which as we all know is the politically correct way of saying "Bugger it; if you don't like my cooking, you do the catering!" 


Development of a race strategy is, so I've been told, an important part of race preparation, something to do with communication development and ensuring a nurturing, caring, team building process.  Blair and I interpreted this as "go to the closest bar and drink beer" and the outcome is a very simple set of guidelines;


  • Stay away from the hard bits around the edges
  • Turn left at every opportunity
  • Keep the wet stuff under us
  • Keep the stick pointing towards the sky
  • If in doubt ? put the kettle on!


We did however, identify one particular problem with our crew combination; neither of us has actually flown a spinnaker before.  We have justified this with the fact that we have the entire route to practice, and for the most part no-one will be looking.  To this end if any of you happen to find a spinnaker lying on the beach, could you please post it back to me, it means that we have said "bugger this", cut the halyard, just like we saw in the America's cup, and gone to put the kettle on.


Other seasoned crews that we met at the survival training weekend (which incidentally, if you're enrolled for - you don't have to turn up in camouflage gear) said it was very important to keep the weight of the boat down.  I suggest that everybody should have this as a goal and undertake at some stage, if only to remove the half eaten crusts from behind the squabs, and the 5 rolls of tin-foil from the galley. However do it somewhere private, otherwise you will find that people think you are having a garage sale and start offering you $2.00 for the BBQ, helping themselves to half open packets of crackers, and telling you horror stories about their own trips around the harbour.


The final hundle is getting to the start line given that the boat is moored on Great Barrier Island.  I mean who in their right mind wants to bang into a 30 knot southwester (head wind!!) just to get to the start line!