Sunstone's RNZ Overview
30 Mar 2012
Sunstone's RNZ Overview
Physically a race like this is very demanding. Despite the stops, exhaustion is only a few hours away most of the time. It is impossible to get enough sleep if you are seriously trying to be competitive. We have a lot of experience pacing ourselves when cruising two-handed, when we have a very regular watch system, which ensures that we get enough rest except in seriously bad weather. For serious racing a watch system doesn't work for us. Mostly we were sleeping in spells of about an hour or less, with very occasional periods of one and a half hours. This isn't good for your body or your brain. Though we got enough food, we both lost weight and were just calorie stoking, quite often eating cold ravioli out of the tin. As we were by far the oldest crew at a combined age of 124, we did also have physical disadvantages to start with in terms of strength and pre-existing arthriticy aches. However, we may have had some advantages in stamina. By the end of the Race we were pretty shattered, though we were probably at our lowest in Napier after a disappointing leg. The other side of the physical challenge is that a boat like ours is actually quite heavy to work. We are well set up for two-handed sailing but the spins are big and the poles are heavy. On Leg 2 we used 10 different sails at various times. And anyway, who ever heard of a 65 year-old bow man!
Mental toughness is
pretty essential for an event like this, especially when it turns out that
there are not just odd spells of very difficult conditions, but long continous
periods. In addition, in this Race the appearance of the weather 'bomb' was
bound to cause some consternation. It did with us. When Tom saw the GRIB file
predictions for that very rapidly deepening low he said to Vicky, 'this is a
very dangerous system!' We seriously discussed heading to
Tactically the Race was more challenging than usual because there was so much windward work. When reaching or running it is rarely useful to stray far from the shortest route unless there are major weather factors or your rig dictates wide gybing angles. This is not the case with windard work, where working the shifts correctly is essential. Dealing with the tactical issues in heavier windward conditions is also challenging, when sail damage, handling difficulties and pure discomfort may inhibit perfect tactical thinking!
We knew a couple of days before the start that we would not be in the running for any overall prizes. As soon as it was clear that the first short leg would be in heavy running conditions we knew that Sunstone would be too disadvantaged to place well. Sunstone comes from an era of design which did not encourage the ability to surf and plane. You can carry as much sail as you like and only end up in a deeper hole, trailing quarter waves that are a surfer's delight. We had an exciting time with our heavy spin up for much of the leg, but still trailed far behind, despite shooting the 'gap' at the Cavallies.
The opportunities presented
by the second leg were a compensation and by the middle of the leg, before the
appearance of the 'bomb' we were well placed in heavy beating conditions which
have always suited Sunstone. We were fortunate to be just far enough ahead to
get south of
Once off Fiordland, a
short-lived spin reach ended and we progressively reduced sail as the wind got
up. For a while we ran with a poled No 3 alone, as this gave us the option of
running significantly by the lee when necessary. When the wind got up to about
45kts+, we went to the storm jib only, still running fast in seas that were now
quite large and breaking. When the wind was 55kts+ One of these seas caught the
boat slightly too far off dead down wind and spun us into a broach. It was not
a heavy knock-down, but far enough that water shot in the dorade vents and
around the sides of the main hatch. It also broke both the air vane and parts
of the connecting rod on our Monitor windvane steerer. However, damage was
minor and nothing to prevent us continuing as before. Once around Puysegur, the
seas began to moderate though the wind was still very strong for a time.
Inevitably, by the time we got to the northern corner of
The third leg was a
trial for us. Despite the longer stop in Oban, we were still very tired at the
start of Leg 3, while their apparently poor showing had certainly motivated the
three crews who had sought shelter on Leg 2. Somehow we made bad call after bad
call, from tactics to sail changes. In the latter case often doing two changes
in half an hour because the first had been a mistake. To top it all, Tom had
caught a cold at Oban and was not fully fit physically or mentally.
Nevertheless, we were not totally out of touch until well over half-way to
Napier, to the east of
Despite the prospect of very unpleasant weather we may have been better motivated for the last leg. Tactically we made the right decisions with only one exception and that was that we didn't go quite far enough north to meet the predicted new wind. However, even at her best Sunstone was not fast enough to make the tidal gate at East Cape, which the faster boats did and we were never likely to make any distance into the Hauraki Gulf before the strong SW change came through, forcing us to beat home while the faster boats reached. That's offshore racing. We still felt satisfied with our performance on the last leg.
Damage, Repairs & Spares
One aspect of our race of which we were particularly proud was the way we dealt with damage and repairs. Despite the knock-down we actually had relatively little damage:
broken snatch block
damaged monitor windvane steerer
1 lost batten and torn batten pocket on NO 3
torn tabling on No 4
smashed steaming light
broken third reef pennant
smashed up pram hood
We repaired or replaced all of these from spares on board. The only assistance we had was when Roger repaired our torn No 3 batten pocket in Napier, though we provided the replacement batten and could have repaired the pocket from spares on board. Even the stanchion was replaced by a spare on board and the Monitor was repaired entirely from on-board spares. We made temporary repairs to the No 4, but confess that we were glad not to have them tested! It is worth saying that we spent a lot of time in Oban doing some of these repairs and were glad of the extra time there for that reason if no other.
The club is a remarkable organisation, which runs some of the most ambitious and challenging racing in New Zealand on a shoe-string through the enthusiastic support of its committee, its members and supporters. We are most grateful to them all, but particularly to Steve Ashley, the Race Officer. He worked tirelessly to make the event a memorable one for the competitors. His enthusiasm was contagious and he made every crew feel that they were heroes even when they came in last at three in the morning. Brian Murray and his wife Erica were also stalwarts in their support and enthusiasm. Every member of the committee made some essential contribution and we are very grateful to them all.
Why Do It?
Sailing is the most complex and challenging sport there is- that's why we do it - and offshore racing is it's most challenging version. Charles, the skipper of Vingilot said to us after the Race, 'This was the toughest challenge of my life.' Having heard his stories of other challenges he has faced, that is saying something, but it was probably true for most of us in the race. For everyone there was a very big investment of time and money. However, those were only secondary to the personal investment. Talking to the other crews it was clear that they, as we, felt that they had learned important things about themselves, both strengths and weaknesses during the Race. Without getting too mystical about it, that's what setting and facing challenges like this race do for you and why they are worth the price you pay to do them. Of course, alternatively we could all sit around watching golf on TV.
Tom and Vicky Jackson, Sunstone