It’s a bright autumn day, pleasantly cool after the hot summer as all manner of yachts make their way to their respective start lines in Bramble Bay. The Shorncliffe Pier is virtually standing room only, its opening day abuzz with the added excitement of being part of the start line for Australia’s biggest offshore multihull race. After a superb spell of the regular south easterly wind, the morning breeze has faltered. Carbon, kevlar, dyneema and polyester fabrics gently carve the air, with none of the usual strain on ropes and blocks, as these high-tech sailing craft flit by, like graceful butterflies. Spectator attention raises another notch as the preparatory canon fires.
The start being close in to the pier and shallows presents extra challenges for the boats, languishing in the light easterly. Boatworks times her run nicely at the windward committee boat end, with Renaissance over next but down to leeward. Dirty air off the Boatworks, which is slowing Fantasia seems to be having little effect on the mighty Morticia, who climb to windward of us then power through the Boatwork’s lee. Weighing in at 1250kg, she sports a screecher only 10sqm less than our sail, which up until then I thought enormous. Boss Racing are less powered up and struggle in our wake, along with Top Gun, No Problem and Hasta La Vista, slow off the line.
Free Spirit carrying only a jib and no windward screecher, struggle in the light air beat up to Tangalooma, even with the likes of multihull legend and boatbuilder Geoff Cruse and Nacra Ace Jamie Lietner aboard. For Jamie it’s a story of tragedy and triumph as only two weeks before he lost his entry for the race on the Wide Bay Bar. Fortunately Geoff made a last minute decision to enter Free Spirit and Jamie jumped at his chance to get back on the horse that threw him.
“Boatworks has tacked early! They’ll be heading into all the monohull fleet’s dirty air!” comments Mara as the fleet completes the parade along the Redcliffe Peninsular. “Top Gun’s tacked now, but Boss is staying with us.” Working into about 6kts of breeze, even I feel relaxed about the load on the screecher sheet, only bar tight. Making boat speed of 8/9kts means the apparent wind is pulled right around and the plotter shows us carving a great Z across the bay. “Gosh, look at Renaissance, they’re pointing really high under that overlapping jib! We can’t have them passing us!” says Mara a touch anxiously.
At the M8 mark it’s all action. “Oh, look Boss’s had to tack again! Looks like Renaissance will be ahead of them, and Boatworks aren’t even laying it yet!” says Drew Wooler, savouring the moment as we work to windward of Top Gun who sport only a small screecher. Morticia is almost 3 miles ahead, but it’s our moment of glory at the M9, rounding in second place, admittedly with half the fleet hot on our transom.
It’s a reduced field this year, after the 17 entries last year, such is the cyclic nature of these events. Two entries were withdrawn due to skipper injuries, the Schionning G-Force taking a break, Cut Snake undergoing modifications and Rushour being extended to 50’ etc. Yet the profile of the race is steadily growing, boosting its attraction this year with a 30min film being produced for Boatson.TV. Out in the wings the contenders are growing, with XL2 revamped, Danny Keyes’ resin infused racer due for a debut, the Boatworks all carbon Schionning 60’ cat an interesting cog in the Tony Longhurst/Gold Coast America’s Cup bid, the Southern Ocean 50 (extended to 60) Rogntudjuuu with a new owner keen to race, and who knows we may see a new Seven Seas 50. What with fitness and health growing in popularity, it won’t be long before people will elect the action and excitement of a Gladstone challenge over a lazy Easter weekend.
All bar Top Gun pop kites around the M9, heading off hopefully down channel. “What’s going on up ahead? Quick get the binoculars.” The crisp glass shows clearly the leading monos are hard on the wind again. “Okay team, looks like we need that screecher back up in a hurry!” Its hard yakka re-hoisting our 40kg screecher and sorting the array of sheets and kite sock ropes but we manage it just in time. Renaissance put in a long tack across the channel, which backfires when the breeze shifts back to the south east.
“Hey Darren, grab the camera, Boss’s flying a hull, tearing up behind us!” calls Liam as a rare gust wafts through. Not far ahead, there’s brief panic on Top Gun as Fantasia swoops down on them, recalls Joel Berg at the presentation party. At the west end Spitfire channel green, Top Gun are looking up at our prodder, while Boss grab an inside overlap on us. Her striking dark green hulls capped with golden decks, highlighting the vivid afternoon sun rays on her aramid screecher. There’s a whirr of winches and creaking of ropes as we harden up, close on the wind for Caloundra.
Our two foes pull ahead of us a bit on the long stretch past Bribie Island, yet we still have the mighty Red Boat, The Boatworks well in our wake and the charging Renaissance has disappeared. Rounding the NW4 red beacon we find ourselves in close quarters with our monohull benchmark, the Kerr 50 state of the art racer/cruiser Kerumba, who beat us to Gladstone in the light airs of 2014. We pass them to windward while they perform complex manoeuvres on a steep angle. Not wishing to take too much buoy room at the beacon we end up making a poor furl on our screecher. After the 2 mile beat to the Fairway Buoy, we unroll the screecher and experience our first wineglass, a beastly affair which must be dropped to the deck and then awkwardly re-rolled by the crew. Lesson learnt, always bare away handsomely when furling a screecher.
Out in the open sea Top Gun begin to hit their stride, yet it’s Morticia, screecher clew to the cockpit, pulling away to a big lead. Fantasia had been leading on OMR in the channel, now Morticia begins to open up a gap on us. With the wind in the east and well less than 10kts it’s tight on the wind all the way up the coast. A few hours after the gentle sunset, the crystal clear golden moon floats up over the vividly clear horizon, spreading a enchanting moonlight over a pool-table flat sea. No one’s complaining about the light breezes even though most other boats are wishing for more wind.
Thus unfolds one of the most beautiful nights at sea, well at least for the leading boats who manage to stay in the receding wind pressure, which moves up the Fraser Island coast. “Hey look at Renaissance on the AIS, they’re close into Double Island Point making only 2.5kts. That can’t be fun!” says Darren Soper, sipping an early morning cup of tea. Morticia have cleared out to Indian Head, 40 miles ahead, while Top Gun have put 10 miles on us. Even our 90sqm sail is barely generating cringe worthy loads. It takes a monster, stretching from bowsprit to transom with a stern sprit, such as the one on the maxi mono Black Jack to get a boat cranking in this breeze. Remarkably they are almost at the Breaksea Spit at this point.
Jutting out of the world’s biggest sand island, the rocky outcrop of Indian Head looks splendid in the soft early morning light. In close we still have 2kts of current against us, with Boss just behind, so we gybe in towards Orchid Beach, a strategy none of the crew like as it drops the vmg towards Breaksea to zero. The breeze lifts Boss past its speed bump and they start to register some decent numbers.
Around Breaksea Spit the most challenging part of the race begins, heading north west in a light south easterly breeze. It takes intense concentration to build a little apparent wind then be able to carefully bear away with it, without over running the breeze and collapsing the kite, which means a slow building up of apparent breeze again. Achieving a gybing angle of 90° is a good result and all day long the boats creep past Lady Elliot Island and across the ‘Paddock’. There’s a long low easterly swell running, wind waves gently lapping on the indigo sea and a perfect autumn sky decorated with scattered fluffy cumulus. It’s testing but mesmerisingly beautiful.
Morticia claims line honours at 10.34pm a superb performance by this team who have done so much to encourage offshore multihull racing. Top Gun, whose Achilles heel is light airs, has done well to be off Bustard Head, 10 miles ahead of Boss and looking a chance for a podium position in both OMR and performance. A strong ebb tide on their run into Port Gladstone hampers them, while a nice south west land breeze begins to fill in for the likes of Fantasia, who hold an 8 mile lead over the Boatworks off Bustard head. Crowning this splendid night is a sky intense with stars blowing one’s mind away to infinity.
Meanwhile, Renaissance and Hasta La Vista are just passing Lady Elliot and No Problem have just cleared the Breaksea Spit. Fortunately the day is to reward them with a freshening breeze, allowing them to storm across the ‘Paddock’ foils humming, speed driving up into the high teens, hair streaming back and grins widening. With the tide beginning to flood we make our best speed on the final run to the line, claiming second on OMR, two hours behind Morticia. At this point we have pipped Top Gun for second on performance handicap, and considering Fantasia along with the Boatworks, has the biggest gap between her OMR and her performance handicap (the ultimate compliment to either hull, sail or crew shape) we feel very pleased.
As the breeze brings the multihull fleet home in time for the evening presentation, the battle for third on OMR is so close. Renaissance edge out the unfortunate Top Gun by a mere four minutes, while The Boatworks is 38 minutes furthur back, No Problem, only 24 seconds away claim sixth, while Free Spirit are close, 23 minutes on. For the local Gladstone boat No Problem, their epic finishing run gives them second on Performance handicap.
Inside the history packed wooden walls of the Port Curtis Sailing club, situated so conveniently on Auckland Creek, free drinks are flowing as the party atmosphere of a race finish builds enjoyably. The multihull fleet savour a rum or two and those lucky enough to gain a podium receive elegant trophies accompanied by generous prizes from the sponsors. Meanwhile the monohull fleet still has 10 boats yet to finish. History is written and once again Morticia claim the honours with a clean sweep showing the beauty of multihulls, that an evergreen classic such as the Seacart 30 design, first launched in 2005, can keep developing to remain so exceptionally competitive.
Highlighting this longevity of multihull competitiveness is the lengendary Crowther pod cat Top Gun, a star performer right from her launching in 1987. Re-vamped extensively by Darren Drew, and given a bit more breeze she is certainly capable to taking line honours in years to come. Perhaps that’s why we all love multihull sailing so much, in that we can develop our craft gradually over the years, achieving new levels of comfort and speed, only dreamed about not so long ago.
“Well, at least we still have something to live for, a Gladstone race with a proper south easterly breeze!” we conclude as the crew head home, re-invigorated and re-formatted by a dreamy spell on the sea.