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Open Country's Auck to Tga Race 2016


Auckland – Tauranga Yacht Race 2016.

It was a dark & stormy night! Well certainly the night before the start of this years AKL-TGA race. The weather window had been much talked about- and even the long range forecast had not altered very much a week prior to the race.

A very nervous race committee pondered and postured over the “what If” With little option they reserved the right to leave the start time open- with confirmation to be posted by 8.00am on race day.

The race briefing was delivered to a somewhat subdued audience as the rain and wind continued to increase outside the RNZYS building. The usual squadron Wednesday night series also abandoned. Rain & wind had stopped all play!

The Mighty Open Country strained in its berth, and additional spring lines were attached- this was going to be rough night. Luckily for the crew, we had the full use of a 65 foot luxury launch, so while it rained an blew- we were all comfortably lounging in the salon of Magic Express, the wine chilled to perfection, as the evening dinner was served., silver service of course!

The front raged on all night and eventually passed through in the early hour at around 5 a.m. We awoke to a misty Auckland harbour and dying northerly. A little after 8.00 a.m. we were advised that the race start would be 10.00 am as originally planned.
Our concern now turned to race preparation and the likely hood of a very slow race and variable breezes – if any.

The predictwind models that we rely on, we many and varied, so that our best prediction indicated at least 22 hours time on the water for Open Country. “If we were lucky”

Like so many times before the the race start was slow due to the dying breeze- so the fleet remained in close quarters for the first few hours as we flew our spinnaker down the Harbour. “Is that our biggest spinnaker?” I asked.
"Umm Yes unless you want sew the two together!" Was the reply.

It seemed an age to clear Motuhi channel – and we were not helped by a huge patch of kelp and seaweed that enveloped our keel. Once this was discovered, it still took several valuable minutes to remove, but worse left us becalmed The latter was to become the norm for most of our race.

Whistler had missed the start by 20 minutes- but did manage a remarkable catch up as it hooked into a light tail wind. For most it became a mission impossible and by 20:00 few if any other than Vodafone had made it to Channel Island.

Even Aruthusa was amongst the first withdrawals, due to time constraints. Other vessels also radioed in to withdraw, while the rest of the fleet soldiered on.

We eventually rounded Channel island and headed towards Great Mercury, but not before the wind altered direction to hold us on the nose. The ground swell from the Pacific ocean loaded with the energy from the storm front, made for an uncomfortable ride coupled with less than 5 knots of true wind- literally knocked off all ‘way’. The poor boat crashed and banged as the sails flogged backwards and forwards. This was to be the norm for many for the rest of the night. We eventually dropped off the headsail to reduce the wild flogging and prevent any further damage to the sail. In the hope that a fair breeze would fill in. – It didn’t!

Yachts continued to retire throughout the night. Several hours later- not much had changed- now and again, we would catch a small breeze but it was short lived- the predicted forecast nowhere to be seen.

In the morning, the fleet had now been reduced to only a handful, even Sablan had pulled the plug and was motoring towards Tauranga. Eventually the race fleet dwindled to three, General Jackson, Time Warp & Open Country

On board Open Country, we gallantly sailed on, extracting every knot of boat speed that we could muster, We were well aware of the somewhat experimental SRS time on distance formula that was being trialled- so for us it was a race of attrition. Captain Peter on General Jackson, was also fighting for his life- as he knew that the scurvy rascals on Open Country were hell bent to try and rain on his PHRF parade!

In the last hour Open Country had picked up a slight lift and was making 6.2 knots average – and was closing fast on the General, Time warp appeared to have teleported to another dimension – or were holed up in Coroglen pub –based on their Predictwind tracker information.

On board The General, there appeared to have been a summary court marshal as one of the crew must have been made to walk the plank with their tracker as there were two tracker positions for the General both a couple of miles apart?

Finally the whistle blew at 16:00 hrs, We were faced with a 9 hour motor into a 10kt South Easterly to get back to Tauranga. For others the trip home became a little more serious- Frenzy had a blocked fuel filter and spent some time trying to rectify the issue- in addition they lost a lot of their fuel – so became needy of a resupply. Several other yachts were also fuel critical for the long haul to Tauranga.

On board Open Country, we also had a number of mechanical issues to deal with. The fridge compressor had shed both belts- so were without refrigeration- so the milk quickly went off and the ice cream had melted. Up in the head the pounding and rolling of the boat had loosened a fresh water pipe and emptied all our fresh water into the bilge. No real drama – as we always carry at least 20l in spare containers

Worst of all! For some reason the toilet outflow “non return valve” to the holding tank had malfunctioned- and so the toilet had refluxed and overflowed raw sewage into the bilge- the resultant mess under the floor boards for yours truly to deal with!

Later I was also informed that the Toilet was now also well and truly blocked- Boy! was I now in deep! One of the career advantages of being a licensed aircraft engineer, is that you come equipped as a master of disaster, armed with all sorts of wonderful skills to deal with such issues- particularly dealing with sanitation issues on 747’s made fixing the toilet on Open Country just an annoyance! We usually have enough engineering spares to completely rewire the boat, overhaul the engine- we even carry a complete fuel filter assembly including hose fittings (Roger) with the aid of one of the crew’s tooth brush – I was able to make necessary repairs and unblock the beast!- To the unnamed person who was responsible for the blockage – I can now advise “I used your tooth brush”!

After some 9 hours of motor sailing we finally reached Tauranga. Ran the gauntlet of the dredges we were safely tied up back in our berth around 2.00am

The prize giving was particularly kind to us , with Leonie winning the bracelet a second placing for the Mighty Open Country- Well done the General!

Congratulations to Gary Smith who won the Dive HQ PADI Open Water Course-
I have the coordinates of my winch handle that the scurvy crew threw overboard in the middle of the night.

A big thank you to the race organisers and all the members and others involved in putting this event together.

It really is the ultimate coastal challenge.

Adrian McHardy
Open Country 5457.

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