Roland Smith Ocean Race – Thrills or Spills?
The penultimate Bluewater race of the season “Roland Smith Ocean Race” was held last Saturday in blustery but otherwise fine conditions. This race is an 80 mile beat to Mandurah and a wild kite ride back around Rottnest with the fleet mostly home either side of twilight.
The fleet started with 14 but Indian’s ongoing problems with importing parts for their busted bowsprit saw them as early withdrawals leaving Dirty Deeds as the Gun Boat for the race. SoPYC were represented by the Walsh family on Twitch and ARGO who was looking to make up for a slow and painful Bunbury race last month.
The race started with good winds which faded more than expected up the channel and out to Garden Island, but then built steadily into the early afternoon and it wasn’t long before the fleet was punching into 25 knots and working their way down the sail changes. Unfortunately Twitch ran into early electrical problems and retired just after they entered the channel but the rest of the fleet stayed pretty tight with the stand out early performance of Crush (Sun Fast 36) getting into the middle of the fleet and leaving Atomic Blond in its distant wake with SoPYC regular Shandy calling their smart shots. Joss was also continuing its stellar season form with Siska points up for grab. With only Dirty Deeds and Joss in contention, they were both sailing hard in very tough conditions. Into Mandurah and back out was a cracked off reach in 25 knots giving the fleet some idea of what it was likely to be once around James Service and running to West End. Dirty Deeds met ARGO on the turning point as we cracked off heading south and they hoisted their A5 and took off in a mist of flying foam. (they were clearly going to have BBQ duties back at FSC!)
The rest of the fleet steadily made their way into the running leg and enjoyed some wild rides with winds hitting 30 knots and swells in the 3m plus range. ARGO steadily clocked increasing speeds with sweet sixteens being quickly replaced with some seriously voting 18’s. When we started to spear the next waves in front with torpedo-like ferocity and the wind started gusting over 30 knots heralding a series of smashing roundups the call of downsizing was getting a bit more earnest. Then we hit that fateful speed of 22 knots and it was a call of should it be thrills or spills. Then like a déjà vu of the Dirk Hartog 2016 race off the Zuytdorf Cliffs the steering blew as we rocketed past Garden Island and chaos ensued. The boat bore down and reverse Chinese jibed. As everyone ducked their heads the main smashed its way across the deck, blew the top off the winch handle along the way and took the bottom out of the mast luff travel guide. Yours truly was propped up safely in the rear quarter after an earlier helm change and managed to pull our young Gero crewman back on board before he got too far under the rails. Getting the emergency till into position, retrieving the A3 from over the side and dropping the main involved some pretty nasty moments, but everyone was safe and accounted for albeit a little shook up (literally). We motored in hoping to at least beat a few of the fleet to the bar while Dirty Deeds did enough to win and close out the Siska points from Joss in 3rd with the increasingly consistent Checkmate bringing it in for second.
I got ARGO’s steering going in the morning and re-tuned the system so it won’t happen again, but we are at least pretty well practised in racing under an emergency tiller. Some of our young crew got to see the kind of stuff go down that we all train for and try our best to avoid happening in the pursuit of that winning speed. It should help them appreciate the fury of the sea as we contemplate the 51st Geraldton Classic. Many in the fleet suffered some pretty wild roundups and the damage bills were not confided to ARGO and judging by the thirsty wide-eyed looks in the crowd at the post-race sausage sizzle everyone got a share of adrenaline in the 2019 Roland Smith Race.
See the link below for an Instagram video of the fleet taking off for the race.
Images courtesy of RFBYC.