Written by Jim Nixon
Sometimes in life things just go your way. Often, it’s just about being in the right place at the right time. Toucia and I lucked out by heading off in the trusty X-Trail in late April bound for nowhere in particular but aiming for Kakadu. Probably anyone who got out of
NSW at that time also got lucky. When the virus took off in Sydney, we were pretty much on our way home to Manly but soon decided to take a big port tack at Mt Isa to my sister’s place on Magnetic Island off Townsville to wait and see what was going to happen.
I had planned to do all the Qld regattas on a friend’s sports boat anyway, but the crew was stuck in Sydney, so I hunted around for a ride for Airlie Beach Race Week and ended up on a Farr 40 named Ponyo (Piss Off Not Your Ocean) which was great fun (see Marike’s report last month). But I’d never done a Magnetic Island Race Week (MIRW) so was super keen for that to happen too.
Once again good fortune didn’t desert me, and I hitched a ride on a Farr 11.6 named Amaya II out of Townsville Yacht Club for the regatta. The boat had never really been raced by its current owners, brothers Ben and Matt. Their previous MIRW in a Farrier trimaran had ended in disaster when a front hatch had been left open and hundreds of litres of water flooded the boat’s bow. They only twigged to the problem when they started to be overtaken by monohulls.
Anyway, Amaya had good bones but needed work to be race ready, so we set about pulling 30-year-old spinnakers out of dusty bags, drilling holes for jammers and tweakers, and lubricating EVERYTHING including the crew because Townsville’s heat gets you very thirsty. All the sails and most of the lines on the boat were made last century, and off came 20 years of cruising junk, fishing gear, rusted stove, extra anchors etc. We were still hammering, drilling and screwing as we motored the start of race 1, a 15-mile beat into a 20knot sou-easter to Four Foot Rock off Cape Cleveland.
Few of the rapidly assembled crew had ever sailed together and their spinnaker racing experience was negligible. With a reef in the main and a fabulous Hood spectra No2 that had been in a garage for 20 years, we got to the rock in good position and nothing broken and hoisted a vintage 2.2-ounce fractional spinnaker for the dead square run to the finish. We needed to sail dead square because hardly anyone on the boat had ever hoisted a kite let alone gybed one and, as I was the bowman and valued my life, I wasn’t gonna teach them that day.
Cleveland Bay off Townsville is super shallow and bumpy when the wind gets up, a lot like Port Philip Bay, and we got some great surfs to the line and finished fifth on handicap, a perfect start for a PHS series. The wind was unrelenting,
powered by a huge high over Australia, and race 2 was a similar slog, this time a short beat to an upwind clearing mark then a run westward to Townsville under a cruising MPS, the boat’s youngest sail. Getting it set took most of the
downwind leg but when it finally filled, we took off, hitting 13 knots. We rounded the bottom mark mid-fleet for the long upwind slog, which ended in disaster just before the top mark when a dodgy old spinnaker bag (which I had earlier pencilled in for the bin) decided to abandon ship through the lifelines and disgorge its contents, the 2.2 ounce kite, into Cleveland Bay.
Needless to say, we stopped pretty quickly, losing minutes in retrieving the errant nylon and some prawns. I was totally buggered by then, so we poled out the trusty Hood headsail for the run to the finish line and a gallant third place.
Race 3 took us anticlockwise around the island to a mark off Horseshoe Bay on the north shore of MI and with a moderating breeze to look forward too. We’d been having great starts, as had our nemesis, a boat named Lunacy with Matt Allen (Ichi Ban owner) its co-skipper, but this time we got too greedy and arrived at the favoured pin end early and had to gybe away and start on port and duck quite a few boats. Lady Luck reappeared and we sailed off into a huge right-hand shift and lifted to get to the top mark up with the big boats. The assy finally went up after only 10 minutes of swearing and a peel to a previously unseen masthead symmetric had us right behind Lunacy and the Beneteau 44.7 Shazam at the White Rock turning mark. One of THE secret weapons on board, local boat broker Justin, picked the right way to go on the upwind beat home and a shy kite run (yes, the indestructible 2.2 fractional) took us over the line in fourth place for the overall handicap win and the series lead.
Day 4 dawned with palm fronds flying through the air at my sister’s place. “Dogs off chains” was the common meteorological observation at the marina and word around the dock was insurance concerns would see the AP flag soon joined by the A flag. As we were leading the series by three points with scores of 5, 3, 1 we weren’t too upset when that finally happened. Shortening the regatta to four races meant there would be no discards, so it would all come down to the last day. Traditionally the MI regatta is a light wind affair, but this year Huey wasn’t going to let up. The soueaster blew all night and again the morning saw the bay covered
in whitecaps and a “square” choppy seaway. The Race Committee was determined to get a race in and after a meeting where skippers were reminded of Rule 2.1 … “race at your own risk” … a reaching course towards the city and back was chosen. We’d calculated the numbers and thought a fifth would be the result needed to clinch the series and overcome the 4 per cent hit our handicap had received.
Once again, a good start helped, and we came off the line powered up with a reef in the main and a No 3 jib which was almost new but could have come off James Craig. Amaya was one of the most windward boats and with the clearing mark to be a starboard rounding we held on starboard tack all the way to the lay line to shut out most of the fleet coming back on port tack, some of which had to tack away and overlay. Easing sheets at the mark, we took off to Townsville with only Lunacy, a Hanse 445, ahead.
There’s no doubt Bruce Farr is a genius and the 40-year-old Amaya accelerated like a true thoroughbred. Soon we were up with and weaving through the nonspinnaker boats and then Division 3 yachts and finally the (slower) multihulls which had all started before us. The big multi-storey multis are really hard to get around but we lucked out again and snuck around to windward of one block of
flats when they started playing silly buggers with a smaller monohull.
Soon the faster Div 1 boats were coming through, including an amazing sports boat, a Sayer 8, planing past us! By the bottom mark it was becoming like Pitt Street with only metres between boats. Unfortunately, the fleets had to cross to reach their next marks and there was a lot of bumping going on, almost as much as an MYC twilight fleet rounding the Cannane AS mark! We managed to keep
clear and round the Strand buoy for the long starboard leg to the final mark. A second reef was called for and we managed to get it in without too much drama.
What Amaya’s crew lacked in experience they made up for in youth and enthusiasm, especially with the regatta win on the line. We had picked up a few locals on the dock for ballast just before the final race, one who had just had knee surgery a few days before, but he was jumping from rail to rail like an Olympic gymnast. What to do at the top mark? It was gusting easy 25 and we were looking pretty good in about third or fourth spot. Spinnaker or play it safe? What would the Melody girls do? No guts, no glory. Spinnaker it was! Up went the trusty fractional 2.2 and off we shot. Up stayed the No 3, not just to fill the gap under the kite but because we couldn’t risk any weight forward to pull it down.
It was a short, wild run but it made all the difference, closing us in on the leaders and gapping the boat behind who poled out headsails. We crossed the line elated and feeling like we hadn’t left anything on the racetrack. But the excitement
wasn’t over yet.
Over the VHF came a call for help from a yacht that had a suspected spinal injury aboard. We had a doctor with us, Nick, who was a rescue chopper medico, and we hammered the diesel to get to the dock where the injured sailor was being cared for. What a day! It was pure adrenalin from go to whoa.
As it turned out the injured sailor was not as critical as the point-score standings – or the beer supply – and was under good care. The nervous wait began. Would we hang on, or would the millionaire win another regatta? Finally, the results came over the internet … Amaya fifth. Yipee! good enough for the series win by one point. Yay! If we’d been 15 seconds slower then, it would have been sixth spot and second place overall.
The trusty 25-year-old fractional spinnaker had saved us once more. What a great win for the underdogs … co-skippers Ben and Matt, local expert Justin, 21-year-old Jess who will go a long way in the sport, funny guy Wade, doctor Nick, and all the last-minute additions to the weather rail. The smiles were ear to ear and the backslapping started and beer flowed, and the rest is unprintable for a family yacht club newsletter.
Fabulous fun. I’m probably still grinning as you are reading this!