Race 'Fix' and Haul-Out

 Ilhabela is a favourite holiday spot for the wealthy from the huge city of Sao Paulo. Much of the lushly wooded island is a national park, but the coast on the mainland side has become more and more covered with plush holiday homes. On the mainland shore is the town of Sao Sebastiao with a large tanker terminal, though the town itself is fairly sleepy with the remnants of attractive colonial buildings.




Almost from the moment we arrived we began transforming Sunstone from cruiser to racer. In addition, we managed to finalise our crew. John Curtis and Viv Worrall once again proved their committment to racing on Sunstone around the world and joined us for their fourth bout of racing in far-flung places. Chance emails brought us Tomas Ocampo from Buenos Aires, who proved an excellent bowman. Fortunately, the Race Director, Jose Nolasco, kindly found us a local friend, Olav Oncken, to complete our crew. Quite apart from boundless enthusiasm, Olav was willing to let us store hundreds of kilos of cruising gear at his house - as well as interpreting for us whenever Portuguese was necessary. By the time we finished off-loading, Sunstone was three inches higher on her marks, though still heavily burdened compared to her true racing trim. Though we had originally intended to race in ORC Club class, it turned out that this would have placed us in a class with very small light boats, so we opted instead for full IMS, ending up competing against the best racing boats and crews in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.


Unfortunately the drifting conditions for the start of the first longer race were not encouraging. However, the wind filled in and for a while things looked promising for a good result. However, as often happens in the area, the wind went light again as the sun set and a reach turned into a beat. As a result we ended up with a mid-fleet position - no glory, no disgrace.



With a couple of lay days to kill after the first race, we booked a jeep tour across the island and through the rain forest of the national park. The scenery was great, the 'road' appalling, the jeep not totally reliable. However, we enjoyed our day out, with lunch on a beautiful beach walking up to the waterfall and the tension of driving back in the growing dark, wondering whether the jeep would make it or leave us hiking back through the jungle night.




Sunstone racing at Ilhabela.



 We had our only moment of glory in the second race, the first of several windward-leewards. After a good start in moderate winds we held on to a reasonable position while the bigger faster boats in the class ploughed ahead. By the last lap, we were inevitably well back on the water, but a favourable wind shift and a bit more breeze helped give us an advantage which brought us home in first place on corrected time. The result came as something of a shock to the fleet, seeing a 40 year-old boat competing against modern flyers is bad enough, but seeing it winning is really a bit much. A few of the Argentinians remembered Sunstone from their participation in the Commodores' Cups of 1992 and 1996, which put the boat's performance in context. Everyone was really very nice and even complementary - so long as we didn't repeat the performance. We didn't. The winds turned light and flukey and the crew did well to get us mid-fleet positions in the remaining races. But we did enjoy ourselves had a wonderful time, thanks to the hospitality of the Club, its staff and memebers, as well as the Regatta organisers.


As in the past, we not only enjoyed the excitement of racing and the tension of competition, but also the two social aspects of working with both previous and new crew members, as well as making new friends among the world-wide racing community. And then there was the small matter of putting Sunstone back into cruising-home mode. Transporting everything back out to the boat by dinghy and restoring things to their proper places does help to sort everything out and decide what you really no longer need on board.

The end of July is not the ideal time to moving south along the Brazilians coast. However, we were conscious that we needed to head south to Uruguay. We needed time to get everything done in our annual haul-out, get back in the water and then get to Mar del Plata, where we had decided to leave Sunstone for a few months while we flew back to England for the first time in eight years. We hoped for a fairly, quick painless 800 miles. In the event, it was a game of two halves. We got our wish for the first half with fast reaching down to Cabo San Marta. Here, the wind came on the nose, as did the current and we slowed to a snail's pace. The weather never became seriously bad, just contrary and we were very relieved when we sailed past Punta del Este into the estuary of the Plata and on to Piriapolis.


Piriapolis was a radical contrast to the bustle and excitement of Ilhabela. The town is a small resort catering primarily for the wealthy from Montevideo and Buenos Aires. The economic collapse in Argentina a few years ago has badly affected the town and in any case it is very, very quiet in mid-winter. However, for our purposes it was fine, with a fairly well protected, small harbour and a large boat-lift, originally brought to Uruguay to cope with the maxis doing the Whitbread Round the World Race. We also had the chance to make the acqaintance of another classic, Fortuna, an Argentinian Navy training vessel. Our Naval connections increased when we were befriended by Henry Ogando, a commander in the Uruguayan Navy.


Though there was some delay in our haul out, while the boat-lift received some maintenance, this turned out to be a blessing as the weather turned out to be perfect for boat work when we did come out. During five lovely days we managed to complete all our work on the bottom, which fortunately needed fairly little attention. The only shock for us was that after 24 years we had to change the colour of our antifouling. No paint we were willing to use was available in Uruguay at all, so we headed to Buenos Aires where we took out a mortgage in order to bring back 10 litres of blue paint. We still do double-takes when we look at the boat, however, the result is pleasing to the eye - but then we have always liked blue.

 The two most distinctive aspects of Uruguayan life for us, were firstly, the obsession with drinking 'mate'. This is a kind of herbal tea, to which Uruguayans seem addicted; so much so that they suck it up through a metal straw everywhere they go. The second was their willingness or perhaps need - to maintain very old cars, some dating back before WW II. We enjoyed our short time in Uruguay partly because of the contrast between the softly spoken, almost shy people of Uruguay with the extraverted, exuberant Brazilians. However, we were happy to catch a fortunate weather window in which to make a quiet passage back down to Mar del Plata. The timing of this move was actually more than just fortunate. Three days after we arrived in Mar del Plata, hurricane force winds swept down the Plata and several boats were blown over on the hard at Piriapolis and several others were sunk in the harbour.