Then waking to a forecast of 15 knots NNE breeze makes one feel relaxed about the day ahead.
At PRSC the breeze is constant WNW, and the hair on the back of team AOE neck’s stands up. For we know you never trust a Westerley on the river. About 8 years ago the fleet was all but wiped out after a Southerley buster hit, during a WNW breeze.
Once on board AOE the team do a safety check, making sure the anchor is sitting secure and on top of untangled tackle. We also decide to keep the rig tight as per the last weeks race all though the breeze was lighter at this time at around 10 kts.
As we approach the start we notice that 2 boats from division 3 are already racing, being Barry and crew on Farrago and Vince skippering Xena WP. They have decided to sail with the big rig as the start breeze is no where near that forecast.
As division 1 prepare for the start, we notice Still Festering has no headsail out, and we ask ourselves "what do these guys know, that we do not!"
Off we go with Speed just getting off in front of and slightly higher than Resurgent, closely followed by Still Festering and Team Patto on Bush Telegraph. Still Festering retire from the race after the start claiming gear failure. Our skipper is happy today as we have both good speed and height from the start, but Resurgent is hot on our tuck as we round mark 1.
Working hard back to 5 at Abbotsford Bay, we are overtaken by the big Ross 960 at Abbotsford Point, but continued to follow these guys around Mark 5 by a few metres. Once round the mark Resurgent tack and we chose to cross the river and work the tide we round Mark 1 again seconds in front of Resurgent, again we hoist the small spinnaker, this was a perfect set and are off making valuable metres on this down hill screamer. Team AOE had a couple of great rides in to Hen and Chicken Bay and enjoy a quiet beer. A early kite drop allows us to set up for a comfortable mark rounding.
As we sail out of H&C Bay we are hit by a number of gusts and find the breeze is building, we question & prepare for what the river will present us. Once round Cabarita Point we are into it and start to wonder about whether we should fly the kite back down the river from mark 1.
No debate, as AOE rounds the top mark, the kite goes up.
Crossing Morrision Bay, all is good, however once at the moth of Glades Bay, the spinnaker Sheet is dragged thru my hands, by a mother of a gust. We estimate around 30-35 knots. Big Jim and I get the kite back under control, as another big blow starts to take hold, skipper Speed yells, drop the kite. We are now in uncharted plus breeze. Jim works wonders and gets the kite into the boat as we take off on a ride that I do not want to participate in ever again.
Captain Speed is doing a great job controlling the almost out of control boat, I am trying to get up on the gunnel and slip in to the bilge again as AOE rolls once more, I try again to help balance the boat, and make it this time, water is pouring over the lee ward gunnel, we are really out side our comfort zone at this time and as a mark of respect to nature, drop our beers!
We fly past PRSC and head to Bedlam Bay looking for a way out of this mayhem. The breeze now has to be 35 kts plus and building. Bedlam Bay approaches in no time, we have one option, it is a granny turn, but loose speed mid way thru the turn, and manage to get ourselves blown on to the muddy leeward shore as we cannot accelerate safely out of trouble.
We on board are all safe plus we have found a safe place to park, in the lee of the head land, I have jumped over board to keep AOE of the rocks and am joined by Speed, we try to push AOE from the shore but the keel is stuck in the mud and the pressure of the breeze is irresistible.
Roger our old mate from Abbotsford Point Boat Shed, is with us within minutes to render assistance if required. By now the worst of the storm has passed, and with a raising tide all we need is a ferry wave, where are they when you need one?. With all sails set and a good heel on AOE slides from the bottom of Bedlam Bay.
Many thanks to Roger for standing by, also by now Resurgent are hanging about to make sure we are ok, many thanks guys, for the being there for us. The breeze is dying so we sail to Mark 5 before presenting our selves to The finish line, and all at PRSC, who are wanting to know if we were safe. See us flying below!
We were hot on the heels of AOE down that last leg of the course to Abbotsford Bay with no kite just big main and goosewinged no2 genoa. That “squall” was recorded at 39knots (so a mid gale) at Fort Denison as below and if it wasn’t 40+kts funnelling down the river, I’ll eat a carrot……..
On port hand square running down the 2nd last leg our vang broke just before the club as we were at 12+knots as per the tracker - we then had no control of the main and had to force the boat up into the wind to avoid a violent Chinese gybe which would have lost the rig……….jib got wrapped around the forestay due to its prior goosewing setting, and the full hoist main just acted as a wind drag even when eased right off square to the boat…….we tried to make headway upwind to get off the lee shore but could not. Phil amazingly got the outboard back into position and started but we had no counter to that mid-gale and drifted to the lee shore off the Sydney Grammar rowing shed and onto the 2 stout mooring piles of the house just west of it where we clung on, Phil and Peter with brute force got the sails down and unwrapped from the piles, the conked out outboard was re-started and we dragged ourselves stern first back out with the outboard screaming but holding its nerve and we escaped. We got 3 more bumps in the aluminium toerail but that’s what it’s for – no topside damage or other damage, sails ok, crew ok.
Persons back at the club followed the club hazardous weather policy, and all boats got home ok. Unfortunately we lost our outboard well plug board in the superb effort to get us off the lee shore – tried to find it when went back to the club - if you see it on the rocks please advise.
Someone at the club got a top shot of AOE going past the club at 12kts+ having just doused the kite, jib goosewinged to windward, boat heeling 30 degs to windward - they advised Big Barry’s face was white…………they said they got out of the mid-gale and into Bedlam but just couldn’t control the boat with the wind coming out of everywhere and it was a mild grounding nothing to be concerned about – tide was coming in – on the way home we headed across to see if we could assist Roger from Abbotsford boat shed who was preparing to tow them off but saw they were gradually sliding off so hung around to cross check all crew were ok then got back to the plan to get back on the mooring. Top effort right there again to Roger – he dragged Snowgoose off in the winter series also – we all have to give the bloke 200% for effort around the river for what he does when the mongrel westerly’s come in.