Round New Zealand Two-Handed Race





We spent much of our time during the months of November through February preparing for our participation in the Round New Zealand Two-Handed Race run by SSANZ, the Short-Handed Sailing Association of New Zealand. After eighteen months away, during which we had had time for only limited maintenance, we had a lot to make up. In addition, we had to bring all our safety equipment up to date as well as bringing our own training up to standard by renewing our first aid qualifications. We had two new racing sails made and checked and renewed several shrouds, stays and halyards.


All this came on top of making the transition from a ‘clunky’ cruiser to a ‘light-weight’ – well lighter weight – racer. We removed about a ton of cruising gear and stores and then set about getting just the right stores and charts aboard for the Race.











As the Race start of 25 February approached there were more specific preparations which included pasting on the decals (which we hate for the potential damage to the varnish) and the attachment of a ‘tracker’. Finally, the last vestiges of home disappeared under a mountain of sails in the saloon.



Unfortunately for us, as the start loomed it was clear from the weather forecast that Leg 1 was not going to be very good for ‘Sunstone’, with very strong southerlies forecast. In these conditions, modern, light-weight fliers have a considerable advantage as they can surf and plane at very high speeds, while ‘Sunstone’ just digs a deeper and deeper hole no matter how much sail you pile on.







We got away to a good start, but were soon passed by ‘Truxton’, a big ‘skiff with a lid’ (top right), ‘Pelagian’, a Stewart 34 (above), ‘Krakatoa II’, an Open 40 (right), ‘Surreal’, a Beneteau 47.7 and ‘Coppelia’, a Farr 11.6 (both below right). All soon set spinnakers, as did we and we watched them disappear ahead. However, there were some exciting moments – some excessively so. ‘Krakatoa’ set a huge spin and shortly thereafter suffered a colossal wipe-out. Unfortunately this led to her skipper, Rhys, severely damaging his foot, requiring hospital treatment in Mangonui and leading to the boats early withdrawal from the Race a couple of days into Leg 2.
















Our fears for a poor result were justified and we were second to last into the first stop at Mangonui. However, the fast running did at least mean that Leg 1 was quick and not too tiring. Despite a quiet spell of weather during our stop, looking ahead we could see that we were likely to have some heavy weather on the 900+ mile leg down to Stewart Island. To prepare we even set up our trysail in its separate track, something we would normally only do when cruising.






After the pleasant hospitality of the Mangonui Cruising Club, we girded our loins for a week or more at sea in tough conditions, which were belied by those at the start, when only the lightest of fickle breezes initially propelled the fleet toward North Cape. However, the wind did fill and helped by a fair tide we were around Cape Reinga and into the Tasman Sea well before the next dawn.




The contrasts among the various designs in the fleet were very great. ‘Panther’, an S&S, (above) was another heavier, slower boat, while ‘Revs’, a Ross 12, another extreme light-weight, which was actually to suffer throughout the Race from carrying a very large ‘square-top’ main which was hard to reef and handle in heavy winds. In the middle of the road, by modern standards, were ‘Surreal’ (below left) and ‘Danaide’, a Beale 12. ‘Vingilot’ a Cavalier 45 (below right) was very much a cruising boat, but with a long water line, giving her good reaching speed in moderate to heavy conditions.







After a day of light sloppy beating we were soon into much heavier windward work, made even wetter by a very large southwesterly swell, which built until it was 6 – 10 metres. We were fortunate to have our Monitor windvane steerer, which took over much of the very strenuous business of steering. Nevertheless it was very tiring. During this first spell of strong winds we had our first minor damage when the 3rd reef pennant snapped. Fortunately it was possible to jury rig a replacement outside the boom. We also set our trysail for the very first time ‘in anger’, having only done so previously for practice.








As we worked our way south, the GRIB files which we receive though our SSB radio, began to predict an intense and rapidly deepening low moving across the Tasman Sea from Queensland. These sub-tropical lows can be extremely unpredictable and dangerous. As it became clear that the low would pass through the fleet, crews had to make a decision whether to carry on or make a long detour to the east to seek shelter. This decision was complicated by the fact that to reach that shelter it would be necessary to get there before the winds turned from very strong SW and S to E. Though we considered heading east, we decided not to, as we were further south than most of the fleet and hoped to be out of the worst of the bad weather.






This proved to be the case. Though we had strong winds, we did stay south of the worst. Three other boats, ‘Truxton’, ‘Danaide’ and ‘Coppelia’ which were all further east, headed into Golden Bay. More worryingly, ‘Pelagian’ and ‘Panther’ were both further north and right in the track of the storm, which was now being described by the Metservice as producing seas of ‘phenomenal’ size – an expression we had never before heard used. Through excellent seamanship, both boats managed to get through the horrendous conditions, though it was touch and go for ‘Pelagian’ for a time. Once the storm was past, John Burns, ‘Panther’s’ skipper decided to retire to Nelson. However, Kurt and Matt on ‘Pelagian’ courageously decided to carry on racing. Once the worst was past, first ‘Truxton’, then ‘Danaide’ and ‘Coppelia’ set off from Golden Bay. When the low crossed the North Island it produced some of the owrst weather conditions experienced in decades and was described as a ‘weather bomb’.


Though we were now well ahead of these and not far behind ‘Surreal’, we managed to find a hole for most of a day near the coast of the South Island in the lee of the Southern Alps. It was beautiful, but frustrating, as the flocks of albatross soared around us, with snow-capped mountains for a backdrop, but it did give time for some minor sail repairs.





Once the wind filled, it did so rapidly and with a vengeance. A pleasant spin reach, turned much heavier as we sailed past Fiordland and we were soon running under poled No 3 alone with 40+ knots of wind and building seas. As night came on the wind built further, so we changed to the storm jib only. Off Preservation Inlet, just north of Cape Puysegur in 55+ knots of wind and very large breaking seas, one of the latter caught us out and ‘Sunstone’ was knocked down. We went over far enough to shoot water into the dorade vent boxes, which we hadn’t capped, as well as around the main hatchbox. The breaking wave also broke the windvane on the monitor and stripped the connectors from its control rod. However, nothing serious was damaged and we carried on.



With daylight and once past Puysegur, the wind eased and conditions improved. Inevitably, by the time we reached the northern turning point of Stewart Island, we were struggling for enough speed to fight the foul tide and to stay ahead of ‘Vingilot’ and ‘Revs’, which were closing on us from behind. Fortunately, the wind did fill and the tide turned to bring us into Half-Moon Bay and the finish of the leg before midnight on 6 March.


The boat was a mess. Steve Ashley, the Race Officer, described our cockpit as a ‘snakepit’ when he came aboard, and down below was even worse. However, we were delighted with our moment of glory, winning the leg on both PHRF and IRC and coming in second to ‘Surreal’ on line, despite having the lowest rating in the fleet. Our friends Charles and Matt on ‘Vingilot’ had also done outstandingly well, coming in shortly after us.





Our stop at Half-Moon Bay and the village of Oban was wonderful. The weather was delightfully summery, and it seemed that everyone of the 400 people of the village were intent on making our stay a pleasant one. Having arrived well ahead of much of the fleet, we had plenty of time to lick our wounds, make repairs and try to catch up on a huge sleep deficit.


We repaired our Monitor and replaced a bent stanchion from on board spares, as well as re-setting up our pram hood, which had been wiped out by the breaking wave. At some point, a spline had developed a long crack, but was not opening or leaking. Vicky did her best to dry the most essential bits of our lockers.









With a number of the SSANZ committee, as well as families of the crews in Oban for support, it was a very social stop. There was time for boozy opportunities to exchange tall tales. When Rob and Sally on ‘Coppelia’ and ‘Pelagian’ finished within minutes of each other, the fleet was once again complete. Quite rightly, Kurt and Matt on ‘Pelagian’ received heroes’ welcomes, having shown outstanding determination to carry on racing after nearly losing the boat in the storm.






At Oban, each crew were assigned a host family. All but us stayed ashore with them, while we preferred to stay ‘at home’! Nevertheless, our hosts, Sharon and Noel were very welcoming and helpful, feeding and driving us about,as well as doing a mountain of washing. We were most grateful to them for their kindness. Like others in the fleet, particularly Tim and Cameron on ‘Surreal’, we did what we could to share our experience with the children at the school, giving them a short talk and slide show.



At a wonderful prize-giving, attended by most of the community, we received a truly beautiful glass trophy, which stays in Stewart Island, but also a smaller, but equally attractive glass ‘keeper’. We are very grateful to the people of Oban for their wonderful hospitality and particularly to Gwen and Garry Neave who did so much of the organisation locally.


In between all this racing-related activity, we had a few cruising moments when Kate and Hamish of ‘Seal’ made contact. They have also lived aboard for many years, doing charters in southern and Antarctic waters, with their two young daughters on board. They were on their way to the Auckland Islands, but also wanted to share information we had about Japan and Alaska. Having heard from other friends about their travels and their boat, it was as good to catch up with them, as it was unexpected.






Leg 3 started well enough with gentle spinnaker reach away from Stewart Island. However, the faster boats soon made a break and got away into somewhat more favourable conditions, which continued to improve for them all the way up the east coast of the South Island, allowing them to reach when the rest of us at the back of the fleet were beating.





Fortunately, the conditions were much more pleasant than they had been on the west coast. Even though we were still tired and Tom had picked up a cold in Oban, we were reasonably well placed for the first 400 miles or so, but when we were in the eastern approaches to Cook Strait, we lost the plot and headed off on a losing tack for several hours. It put paid to any chance of doing even passably well on the leg. The nail in the coffin was when the wind died in Hawke Bay, approaching Napier and we took six and a half hours to go the last 13 miles in virtually no wind.








Our poor showing on Leg 3 and the pouring rain throughout our time in Napier, served to make it a somewhat depressing stop, despite the convivial welcome of the Napier Sailing Club and Tim and Cameron’s lively party aboard ‘Surreal’. The spirits of all the crews were also somewhat depressed by the forecast of further heavy conditions for the first night of Leg 4.


The start of the last leg was somewhat delayed by fog and movements of shipping in and out of the port. Unsurprisingly we all set off to windward, with the knowledge that there was plenty more of the same to come. So it proved, as the fleet beat first through heavier winds that night and then in more moderate conditions all the way to East Cape and around the corner into the Bay of Plenty.




We were pretty happy with our performance up the coast, but it became increasingly clear that the faster boats were all going to make the tide-gate at East Cape and we would not. With ’Danaide’ we bucked the foul tide and did our best to catch up with the leaders. And we did do quite well. However, looking ahead we could see that the weather was going to deal us a further blow, with a strong SW change coming. The timing of this was almost certain to allow the fast boats to reach the last 50 miles from the Colville Channel to the finish, while we would have to beat. And that’s what happened. We made it to Channel Island and then the change swept in.




It was a good beat and we got most of the shifts right, but there was no way that we could make up. On the sunny evening of 25 March we sighted North Head and beat up the Rangitoto Channel and allong the Harbour to the finish off the RNZYS.


We felt both relief and a considerable sense of achievement. We did have our one moment of glory on the longest and toughest leg. Our 6th on PHRF was disappointing, though we were cheered to get 2nd on IRC. We felt we had upheld the honour of ‘oldies’, as by far the oldest crew and oldest boat. The race had been a challenge, both for us and for ‘Sunstone’ and we had come through with only minor ‘wounds’. We had made new friends, both among the crews and among the people of Stewart Island. 









‘Danaide’ and ‘Vingilot’ had finished not too far ahead of us and we had a celebration with them and with several members of the SSANZ Committee, particularly Steve Ashley, the wonderfully supportive Race Officer for the event. The best part of a month’s sailing had left us all exhausted, but still happy – despite well chafed hands!




So all that remained was a few weeks of repairs, sail washing and drying and locker cleaning. Fortunately summer finally arrived in Auckland and gave us a chance to do some of this, though it still goes on as we write.


On the page which follows this one, we give the text of our ‘as it happens’ reports, which we sent during legs 2-4. We also give an overview of the race as we saw it. Inevitably there is some repetition of the text above.