November’s River Passage Race saw the introduction of a two race program with lunch and a raft up in Refuge Bay between races. The morning race was set down as a stern-chaser – so that yachts arrived at Refuge around the same time. These races can be a handicapper’s nightmare, as wind conditions need to be assessed well in advance and a morning stern-chaser can go to hell-in-a-hand-basket very quickly if the front markers sit around in little wind earlier in the morning, or worse still contend with stronger tides. But none of this was to be – all boats got a way well – Waterplay perhaps a little bit too well.
The winds were brisk and from the west at times in excess of 20 knots with the occasional gust around 25 in Cowan Creek. With the exception of Crossbow, the whole racing fleet took part in the event. Amoeba sailed an exemplary race in conditions that suited the East Coast 31 perfectly. She was first across the transit finish line and first on PHS. All Our Girls as the back marker put on a fine demonstration of how to trawl for fish with your spinnaker as a halyard let go in a less than perfect launch on the leg out to the East Mark. Unfortunately, Tangaloa sustained some damage in Cowan Creek and had to motor sail into the lunch time anchorage.
Rob Vans-Colina took his Zeston 40 down to Refuge Bay early and during the break most boats rafted up alongside – although All Our Girls and Waterplay were more cautious in the gusting breeze and took up station at public moorings. A special thanks to Rob. Refuge Bay proved a perfect lunch spot. Ceri Adams from All Our Girls couldn’t resist a swim. The smell of Lee Malone’s bread baking could be detected wafting across the bay as crew members tucked into all kinds of prepared meals from simple baked beans in a can to pre-prepared picnic baskets approaching gourmet standard. On AOG crew contended with gusty winds upending gourmet food and were introduced to the joys of a tightly rationed cheap rose from Aldi served up in jelly cups. Lunch must have been too much for the crew of SotS, or perhaps they had plans for something else later in the afternoon, but in any case they piked the afternoon race.
Winds were still fresh in the afternoon. All Our Girls enjoyed a spinnaker ride with a 20 knot westerly behind all the way to the north mark and continued to sail away from the fleet taking out a clean sweep with first place in all categories. The Weather and Tide Gods favoured the front markers as they finished in much stronger breezes and had less of an ebbing tide to battle in the beat up to the finish at marker 409. The race up the river was a test of patience for many of the slower boats and it showed in the faces of crews as they filed into the Angler’s Rest at the end of the day. Not surprisingly under these conditions, the handicap places were the same as the finishing order. Still it makes up for those days when the front markers sit wallowing in the river as their lead evaporates while they watch back markers come home fast with the new and strong Southerly behind them.
All in all a worthwhile experiment, somewhat more successful than the twilight and offshore series. There will be another river passage raft up in February, lets hope the sun is out again and winds are sufficient to get the stern-chaser off to a fair start again.