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Cool Change Race Report

23 Mar 2017

The blast of the horn from the Westhaven Tower signals the end. Pride, relief, joy, satisfaction, disappointment ? emotions that flooded through my mind. That sound signals the end of three years of preparation and build up (and a return to work).

The RNI is an iconic race. On the face of it it doesn?t seem too difficult but in reality it delivers a range of conditions that are not able to be emulated in the Hauraki Gulf. I think doing it for a second time did make it a little easier, but no matter how much preparation is done you can still expect the unexpected. This time around we had focused more on dealing with comfort issues. Stopping leaks, dry berths, strong lee clothes, dry bags. All made the trip more pleasant. On a small boat what you eat will determine your day. Eat well and balance your diet. Dry warm clothes are also key as well  getting your wet weather gear on before you are wet.

Who you sail with is also a critical decision. Get organised early and sail and work together on the boat. Both crew need to know how everything works.

This year?s start was marked by good weather and a fair breeze with the lights of other competitors visible all night. However the course from Cape Brett to Maunganui proved challenging with long periods of calm and very light winds. Spinnakers to the finish are always cool and a last minute drop to the jib saw us just pip the Ilex on the line. A big challenge was sailing the leg without wind gear. It chose to give up on the start line. Maunganui is a lovely stop over and the hospitality of club members is awesome.

The Maunganui start was a little light to begin with but the breeze soon filled in and we headed for the cape under the code 0. Unfortunately the chart plotter refused to  ?fire-up? at the start and we continued to Wellington without it. A small hand held had to suffice. It was a quick ride north with plenty of company. It?s a great feeling when Reinga is rounded and the next target is Mount Taranaki. Unfortunately a highlight of this leg was spending a day becalmed however we got a lot of little jobs done tracing the chart plotter problem to the GPS aerial. Thank god for sat phones. Search for GPS aerial initiated and new battery for wind gear ordered.

Mount Taranaki emerged from the mist just before dark and we rounded the cape in close company with the Rigmarole and the Ilex, even chatting to the Rigmarole, just on day break, as we both willed the wind to make an appearance. It did. Code 0 unrolled and we were off to Wellington. The building breeze saw us change down to the frO early in the afternoon and we blasted our way across towards Durville Island. By this time the forecast was predicting winds over 25 knots with gusts above. Lucky it was well aft and we held onto the full main and frO. What a fantastic ride with bursts into the high 14?s. A fast wet sail with some incredibly nerve racking gybes. We saw a huge whale near the Brothers. It seemed to want to play but we didn?t. It was way bigger than the Cool Change. As we closed in to the Cook Strait we rolled the 0 deciding that the blade was enough sail. The incoming tide around Karori Light was a help but the sea was still bumpy. By the time we arrived at the entrance to the heads at Wellington the tide had changed and the wind had picked up. We tried dropping the blade for the ride up the harbour but with no drive we couldn?t push the tide. A quick exit, change to reefing jib,  two reefs in the main and we were ready to try again. Good drive and we pushed the tide towards the south side of Barrett?s Reef. Bugger! A ferry! Radioed Beacon Hill and agreed we would stand down to let the ferry pass. It did and we were back into it. I taught myself to sail in Wellington Harbour so felt like I was in familiar waters. It was great sailing passed Oriental Bay with the night lights making the scene look like somewhere in the Med.

We had plenty to do in Wellington. New battery in the wind gear, new chart plotter to fit, additional reef lines to be rigged and washing to be done. Hot showers a couple of beers and sleep to enjoy. Fortunately our support crew gathered in Wellington which was fantastic. Having transport certainly made things much easier. It?s great the way everyone helps each other in port. Josh on the Titanium paired my wind gear and Cory spliced a new bob-stay for Kevin. The stop overs seem to go quickly and Sunday saw us starting on the tail of the Nor?Wester in the late afternoon. I love the sail up the Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay coast having spent a bit of time at the beaches as a teenager. Castlepoint is an amazing sight from the sea. In the last race I remember heading inshore once we had rounded Cape Turnagain and immediately being short of breeze for a very long day! This time we employed a different strategy hoisting the masthead spinnaker and blasting well passed the cape even though it wasn?t quite the direction desired. As long as our heading was north we hung on. Not a bad strategy in that we headed into the ?Bay? leading the Pahi. A short lived moment of glory as they got their 0 hoisted and powered over us. The Napier wine trail provided a distraction for many but as a wiser man I vacated the boat and headed to a dry bed ashore for two nights. 

A light weather start turned into a moderate beat to Portland Island with the sea building as we cleared north. We had a great days sailing up the coast mesmerised by the small dot moving ever so slowly across the screen, of the new plotter, towards East Cape. Hard on the wind in lumpy seas isn?t a small boats strength and we had some very heavy landings as we burst out of backless waves. Following a watch change and tack out of Waipiro Bay we landed particularly heavily and the initial slam was followed by a very loud bang. The lower shroud hook sheared off and the stay fell onto the deck. When that happens the knack is to tack quickly! Very quickly. We did and the rig continued to point skywards. We dropped the blade and then the main and then contemplated the ?what now?. 

Cory banged the mark button and we decided to suspend racing, for the moment. A quick crew conference and we decided to motor downwind to Gisborne to try and affect repairs. It was blowing quite hard and we had a big following sea which made motoring very fast, and at times scary. Decided we would stand off shore a little as there seemed to be some big rocks along the coast. Gisborne was a great choice and the welcome was warm. It was also heartening to see the Rigmarole, Ilex and Celandon tied up. By 5.00pm we had tidied up and were contemplating a possible repair. There was no shortage of advice and enthusiasm from locals to get the rig repaired so we could continue. 

Fortunately Steve Ashley was only a call away. Lots of measurements and a promise to ?see what he could do? lifted our spirits and we set about to keep the  Gisborne Brewers happy. They sponsored a box of product for each of the boats. A couple of hours later we get a text from Steve telling us that ?the stay is on the plane and we can get it from the Gisborne Airport at 1.00pm the following day?. Apparently he pressed it up in his van after he had sourced the necessary items. The following day the very obliging Commodore of the Gisborne Yacht Club took me to the airport and there on a trolley, outside the arrivals area, was a small parcel with my name and cell number. No formalities just grab it and back to the boat.Luckily no one else did.  It fits! A good tighten to drag the mast back into column and we?re good to go. Following our unofficial Gisborne prize giving and skipper?s briefing the Rigmarole, Ilex and us decide to set out on the Monday morning. Celandon decided to head to the banks to fish.

Once again Gisborne dealt light winds for the trip north. The Rigmarole and Ilex had to start sailing immediately as they had suspended racing at Gisborne. We motored north to Waipiro Bay to our waypoint. Just short of the mark we hoisted the main and kite and headed north in a very light southerly. It soon gave way to the north wester and just before dark we hardened onto the wind under a full main and blade and set a course for East Island. Champagne sailing. Around 9.30 we rounded the island and were exposed to the stronger westerly in the Bay of Plenty. One reef, change jib, down to third reef and more banging as we  made to clear the cape. Slowly the weather abated and turned to the south later the following evening. We were pleased to be able to ease the sheets and set a course just north of the Mercs. Then a good ride to Channel often hitting over 10knots. Once in the gulf we were back on the wind. Arriving at Westhaven for the finish under the frO was a great feeling and reminded me of the reasons why this race is one worth working towards completing.

It?s strange how things work out. We were devastated when the stay broke but the unscheduled stopover in Gisborne turned out to be a highlight. Locals were genuinely interested in the race and couldn?t do enough for us. The camaraderie at the back of the fleet is fantastic and we certainly enjoyed the company of the Rigmarole and the Ilex on many occasions during the four legs. When entries first opened it appeared that we may have had some more small boats to sail with, however that was not to be. Maybe next time? If you?re thinking about doing the race you should go down to your boat this weekend and start getting it ready!

To Jon and his band of assistants thank you for organising another great event.

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