About 26 years ago I wrote an article about how to cruise on your racing cat. The times they are a changing … Not all multihulls are designed for speed or competitiveness. If your catamaran has the comforts of home, lots of space and a gentle character at sea then why bother racing? It may not be designed to sail very well into the wind. Lack of daggerboards will do that. Sometimes no matter how hard you trim the headsail and adjust the mainsail foot the tell tails on your sails might never flow smoothly. That is if you have telltails. And it just doesn’t seem right to run fresh water into the salty sea to lighten the payload by a few hundred kilograms just to go a tenth of a knot faster.
Over the years I’ve owned non-performance cruising cats, a few performance cruisers and three outright racing machines. Along the way I learnt that entering a yacht race always improves the seamanship, safety, and sail handling ability of every yacht. But the most benefit is gained on the cruising catamaran, the one that you rarely, if ever, race. Let me tell you why.
Catherine and I had only raced Favourite Child in a few local Cairns Yacht Club races. She is a Crowther 43ft cruising cat – watermaker, washing machine, two wind generators, diesel inboards with saildrives, all the gear for extended live aboard offshore cruising. I planned to do Airlie beach race week when Catherine went into extended lockdown in Victoria at the time that I had arranged a month off to sail south to the Whitsunday Islands. The last time we had competed in this regatta was on Windswept (aka John West – a 40ft pod cat offshore racer). This was back in 1996. We had cruised north from Victoria with our three-year-old daughter. We had an outrageously fun time then. Fast forward 25 years and I was desperate for a break after 16 months of covid pressure (I’m a General Practitioner) so was keen to mix and match it again. Without my co-skipper it would be a different event and I had not previously seriously prepared Favourite Child for racing.
I put out the call to some friends and my mate Pat was keen to sail south before he commenced his Bar course in Brisbane. (Barrister training, not hotel bar). He is an awesome freediver and keen kitesurfer so was the perfect companion to do the run against the trades mid-season. We’d stock the freezer en route if it was calm and when it blew, we would toughen up and sail on. When you go south from Cairns in August you achieve the Capes. When sailing north this time of year you just pass them …
Before departure I went over Favourite Child looking at what might be an issue when sailing competitively. The loads would be higher – full sail in more wind, rough windward work, kite and screecher runs.
Tacking so fast we throw a 'wheelie'.
My rigging was eight years old. Time to upgrade it. I went over the halyards and sheets. They were a bit sun damaged but looked okay on a brief glance. Then I ran each halyard with a VB cord mouse so I could inspect them properly. Every one had areas of sheathing failure. They were replaced. The only ones that looked okay were the headsail sheets. Sun damaged, but no rents or tears.
By way of explanation, a VB cord mouse is 4mm venetian blind cord which is attached to the end of a halyard and allows the halyard to be fully pulled out for inspection. When done the mouse is used the pull the halyard back through.
The sailing instructions detailed the safety level, so I checked the flares, EPIRB, Lifejackets, danbuoy and radios. The flares just made it, the EPIRB just out of date, and the inflatable lifejackets needed servicing. I made a note in my ‘job log’ that I should check these annually – because I doubt, I would have done so for a while.
I wiped down the antifouling to remove any growth. A good adage on any yacht is ‘scrub the bum and lose a tonne’. A clean bottom makes a faster boat.
On my sail inspection the spinnaker sock was broken. I needed a part to fix the uphaul and there was no guarantee that the chandleries in Airlie Beach would have the part.
I thought through a way to remove the lazyjacks and furl up the bag that the mainsail dropped into. A few marine bungee cords and some more VB cord had the system working.
When I thought all was done, upgraded and ready I then checked every cupboard and locker. Light is fast, and over the past four years Favourite Child had put on a bit of weight. Coffee machine, cutlery and plates for at least 12, bedding for all seasons and all beds (three doubles, a single and two double day beds.) There would only be max three sleeping aboard and we had a washing machine, so it all went off bar one set. Off went magazines, books, and spares that ‘might be needed’ (engine mountings? – I doubt it). Two inflatable stand up paddle boards, the dive tanks and BC’s and the kite gear was packed for easy removal into the dinghy. Because Catherine was in lockdown this part was fraught with anxiety. I loaded what I thought was non-essential and put it in a spare bedroom at home. My guess – about 400kg. I could see the antifoul waterline raising.
Helping rig Leitning Storm.
I measured the diesel in the tank. It was about quarter full. I filled four jerry cans and planned to use these as my backup fuel if needed and only have enough in the tank to cover the race regulations (enough fuel for four hours motoring). I intended to leave my dinghy on the mooring when racing and put the Jerry cans in it if the tank had enough.
The water tanks were full but by Airlie they would be empty. We have a watermaker so it was no big deal to run out. Another 400kg lighter.
The trip south was a mixed bag. Three days of light or nothing where Pat caught crayfish and mackerel, then a couple of days being hammered as we beat into 20-25kts and short seas past Cape Bowling Green and Cape Upstart. We arrived in Airlie a week before the regatta and, after helping another Cairns cat rig up (Leitning Storm), Pat and I sailed out to Whitehaven beach and the Hill inlet anchorage – a cat paradise. Two days kitesurfing then back to Airlie to register. Covid cancelled the Hamilton Island Race week but the awesome team at the Airlie beach sailing club went full steam ahead and ran the event.
For Race Week I had a variety of crew with the core being my son Baden, another kite buddy Michael and the skipper from a Outremer 50, Phil. Pat could only race one day and on the weekend Chadine and Kate joined the team adding colour and laughter. When they left the owners of the Outremer – Phil and Nicola joined for the rest of the week.
Windward concentration, crew trimming and telltales streaming.
Taking on crew was another learning curve. I had to explain systems and safety, put them through their paces to ensure we did not make too many mistakes and find out about their backgrounds and experience. You never stop learning and on day one Dave showed me a way to put sheet lines over rails without knotting or tangles. The term he used for this was that of male genitalia, which I guess it did look like. I googled it and nothing came up (but don’t look at images). I’ll refer to the technique as a ‘Handrail Y’ (see photo).
Favourite Child competed in the performance handicap division. The handicapper gave everyone an arbitrary handicap then it was modified after each event. This is a science known only to magicians and seers and is an endless source of after race debate and gossip.
We made a tactical error in racing full on right from the start. Because I had a good crew who knew multihulls, we went full rig, full spinnaker, when many around us ran a reef. As a result, our smaller and heavier cruising cat went pretty well over the line but got killed on corrected time. A lesson for next year!
In race three, the port headsail sheet torn the sheathing. The one set I did not replace …
We set up dynemma soft shackle handy billy systems to trim the screecher and kite effectively. The tell tails flow …
We broke a winch handle. One of those plastic ones that float. Never happened before. I replaced all of them with quick release alloy ones. Twice the price but more efficient and a lot tougher.
On day four I put a load of washing on, did the sheets and towels, ran the watermaker and then emptied the tanks again. We continued to race lean. And clean.
The plan was to not drop below 5kts during each tack.
The final advantage of racing your cruising cat is that there are photographers on the race course. Shirley Woodson put out an email to entrants and I told her to look out for us. So she did, and her pics are the race ones here – you never get good photos of your boat under sail normally!
I think putting the effort in to prepare for racing was as much a psychological boost as an actual speed boost. I don’t know if Favourite Child went any faster being about a 1000kg lighter but in my mind she did. She is certainly now a better boat. The systems work better, the tell tails flow because the slides all work, the sheet lines can be safely hauled in as needed as I have confidence in both the standing and running rigging. The emergency gear is up to scratch, and everything is labelled and organised. I learnt some skills also. I’d encourage everyone to have a go at the occasional race – even a Wednesday arvo event. It is a bit addictive as well!