As a new RPAYC member, this was Top Gunsfirst major ocean Race under the RPAYC flag.
Its always hard to know how someone else would react given the same situation.
Even more so when someone "hands you the keys" to their stunningly prepared and well known 50ft ocean racing catamaran "Top Gun" with the caveat of ensuring that she got to her destination safe and sound.
This is the situation I found myself in February 2019 when Darren Drew announced that due to family commitments he was unable to do the B2G this year and that I was very much in the hot seat for the 2019 Brisbane to Gladstone. A massive honour to be sure and indeed an accurate measure of Darren's commitment to the Multihull class and sailing in general to allow the boat to compete without him present.
I was very fortunate that due to Darren's preparation and organisation, there was very little to do prior to the race and it would be fair to say that "Top Gun" has never looked nor performed better at any stage of her now 30 year career.
I was incredibly lucky to be joined for this race by Top Gun regulars Chris Flanagan and Tim Shipton and we were navigated faultlessly by none other than multiple B2G winner Jamie Morris of Simply the Best and Flat Chat fame.
The morning of the race arrived with all of the weather models nearly aligned and the promise of good pressure and very little if any wind forward of the beam.
We arrived at the start line with plenty of time until the gun and a clear plan to be conservative for the initial part of the race.
It was incredible to see Karl Kwok’s, Trimaran MOD70 "Beau Geste" preparing for the start rolling through from 1 reef to 2 reefs and at full mast cant. I can assure you that the start line appears a lot smaller with one of these boats on the line. 4 or 5 would have been awe inspiring!
At the start gun it became very apparent that I had taken our conservative plan a little too much to heart and had placed us at the leeward(massively non favoured) end, 3 boat lengths short of the line and worse still directly on the leeward bow of the MOD70 who were mirroring our conservative approach! Regardless we accelerated well and after a well executed gybe set at Fisheries, we found ourselves in company with Cosmo(a big shout out for blazing the start) down the short run.
After a trouble free rounding back at the start mark, we enjoyed a fast flat water reach with our small spinnaker and full main sitting on 20 knots most times towards the next turning mark off Scarborough. Rush Hour gave us a look into the future rolling past both us and Morticia using their masthead screecher in the first half of this leg probably travelling as much as 5 knots quicker as they passed by to windward.
Fortunately the breeze softened and went aft in the back end of this leg allowing us to squeeze past both these boats prior to the turning mark although the resultant spinnaker drop had us level pegging with Rush Hour as we started the very fast tight 2 sail reach across to Tangalooma regularly sitting on 25 knots with a peak speed of 27.4 knots. It was across this leg that our boat speed was a constant allowing us to step away from "Rush Hour" and was also when we rolled through the majority of the monohull fleet who had all started an hour before us and a few miles further up the track in deeper water. Bearing away at M8 in one of the many squalls had us just behind the Farr40 "Crankster" and the Nelson Marek 46 "Aurics Quest" with only the 50+ footers left to catch.
The run to Caloundra was reasonably uneventful and offered superb VMG running conditions that TG really enjoyed using her full size spinnaker and full main. We battled to catch the 50ft "Kerumba" and 54ft "Active Again" in the sometimes lighter conditions but managed to jump from cloud to cloud very effectively to put some very good time on our closest multihull rivals "Rush Hour" and "Morticia" and allowing us to exit the bay in a clear 2nd multihull on the water position behind the impressive 70 foot Tri, Beau Guest who really are in league of their own.. Worth noting at this point of the race, Yellow Brick standings had us very comfortably leading on OMR and PHS and clearly in second place on the water.
Rounding the fairway beacon, the weight and direction of breeze allowed us to utilise one of the mighty "Top Guns" favourite modes.
TG really loves hard running/reaching with the full Mainsail and small spinnaker and we rarely saw under 20knots SOG for a few hours. In these hours, we put both "Rush Hour" and "Morticia" well over the horizon and in excess of 10 miles behind us. We had pre-empted putting a reef in prior to dark and we did this not far north of wide bay bar with very little, if any, loss in boatspeed given that we were regularly seeing apparent wind angles in the 50% range.
After eventually passing the TP52 "Envy Scooters Beachball" just after nightfall, we started to be knocked into the beach and looked like making landfall just prior to Indian Head.This was our first of only a couple of tactical errors for the race.
We maintained our conservative approach and made the decision to drop the spinnaker about 4 miles from the beach and continue to headsail reach with the reef in towards Indian Head. We were still doing high peak speeds but our lows and subsequently our averages took a very sharp nosedive. This was our other mistake. This is also where I had a "What would Darren do" moment!
We could see both Rush Hour and Envy Scooters on the Yellow Brick tracker intermittently, but worryingly neither were transmitting on AIS that we could see(this was the case for the whole race). Both these boats had taken a much closer track to the beach and were coming back to the lay line at a very hot angle with tight luff reaching sails and they both came past us to leeward just before Indian Head. Truly impressive speed on "Rush Hour" to come back from that deficit using that weapon of a masthead screecher once more.
Given the mode that we had set up for, I made the decision to continue as we were at least until we could get some relief angle alongside Breaksea spit although I could hear Darren's voice in my head screaming at me to put more sail up somewhere!
When we did eventually shake the reef, all be it too late, and hoist the screechr. This was a fairly short term solution, given that not long after, a particularly dark cloudline started to form off our Starboard quarter.
With "Top Gun's" boat speeds starting climb into the early 20's again and the breeze solidly in the late 20's and a long way forward of the beam, the call was made to furl the screecher but Chris Flanagan still had plenty to do keeping her on a straight track as we really had no escape route with Breaksea Spit in close company to leeward.
After about 20 minutes of some very pressed mainsail only reaching, the breeze had abated sufficiently to return to a VMG mode with the big kite.
In fact, we actually saw some strangely light pressure around the Breaksea light area which made our angles a little bit of a lottery coming towards Lady Elliott island.
After gybing twice to clear Lady Elliott, we enjoyed a great angle across the paddock in the early hours of Saturday Morning.
In the last 20 miles before we closed under Bustard Head, we were struggling for VMG and were climbing on the rumb line but the experienced hand of Jamie Morris had an inspired two hours at the helm to get us back down to the line at pace.
It was about this time that something occurred that made me thankful for our conservatism of the night before.
Tim Shipton doing his morning rounds(as all good foredecks should} found the screecher halyard broken and lying on the front cat walk. A post race inspection found a mangled Halyard box to be the probable cause but a failure with the screecher in the air would no doubt have left us in a bad way and potentially with serious damage. I was very glad that I hadn't allowed Darren's voice in my head talk me around to push his boat harder!
After closing Bustard head, we were hit with a robust South Westerly(smell and all) that had us spearing off at 20knots in the direction of Mackay. The big kite came down and we continued at good pace towards S2.
Rounding S2 into a 25knot South westerly gave us excellent pace seeing speeds up to 18-22 knots along the side of the shipping channel with only one ship to avoid.
At the bearaway, the big spinnaker went back up for a lovely run up the harbor with no gybes finishing at approximately 0920 hours, a very fast time of just under 22 hours for the 310 NM distance.
Worth noting that although a very fast average of 14.1 knot was achieved, this is still a little way from the boats best average in an offshore passage race of 17.2 knots. I guess there is always next year!
Once we were parked safely in the marina, the big job of turning "Top Gun" into a cruising boat began. Believe it or not, in cruising trim, "Top Gun" features many comforts that you might not think of her as having including full cockpit shade, comfy helm seats, double bed, autopilot and even a water maker!
A massive congratulations to the crew of Rush Hour on winning the race on OMR handicap and putting the demons of the last few years to bed.
Drew and crew really demonstrated that sailing often with the same crew on a good boat will pay dividends. Also, congrats to Karl Kwok and his team on Mod Beau Geste for taking line honours and setting a new race record of 15 odd hours at over 19 knots average speed.
Thanks to Darren for trusting us with the boat and there is no way that I could have done it without the support and expertise of Jamie, Chris and Tim.
Fair winds to all