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F14 at Sauna Sail

Darryl J Barrett

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On Friday 9th June 2006, we drove from SA across to the Latrobe Valley Sailing club in Victoria to sail an Alpha Omega F14 in the “Sauna Sail” regatta.

The trip was going well until we approached Melbourne at 5.30pm on the eve of a long weekend.

It took us 2 hours longer to get through Melbourne to Morwell in the Latrobe Valley when going over, than it took us coming back. The traffic was “absolutely horrendous”. On Saturday morning we got to the club at 8.00am (through fog that slowed driving down to 5kms at times) to set up the cat in between fits of shivering.

There was an excellent turn out of all sizes of cats as well as about 18 plus cats with spinnakers ranging from the F14 Alpha Omega, F16 Mosquitoes, F16 “Altered”, F16 Taipan 4.9’s, F18 Capricorns, F18 Hobie Tigers, F16 Cobra, and a Tornado (with kite). There were a total number of boats on the water of about 100, which led to some very “scary” close calls with very fast cats sharing the course with some very slow dinghy’s. Some of the buoy rounding’s, through the fog were “heart stoppers” (Thank goodness the water was about 22c as the wind felt more like 2c).

The first race was sailed in a nice, light breeze throughout most of it’s duration of approx’ 5 or 6 knots, yet because of the low air temperature, the fog kept rising from off of the water and kept visibility quite low. All the spinnaker cats sailed as division 7 – same start, same course, and same finish. The first cat across the finish line was a Capricorn; The Alpha F14 was the seventh cat with kite across the line with several “Hobie Tigers” and the odd F16 Taipan, F16 Mosquito, F16 Cobra, etc following.

Not too shabby a performance when every other cat in this division is larger with more sail power than the F14? I was very surprised at how well the Mosquitoes went with their kites, although for most of them, we found that we had an edge (particularly around 8 to 12 knots of wind), but there was one Mozzie sailor who sailed all the races outstandingly, I am not too sure if their current (provisional) yardstick of 80 really does them justice, I think that they are a faster cat than that.

The second race (back to back) was started in a moderately better wind appearing out of nowhere shortly before the start (it seems to be symptomatic of the area that the conditions can change dramatically several times in one day, but I have never seen many other places where it will change completely so often over one days racing, local knowledge should be an advantage here). The second race was more frenetic than the first, due mainly to the faster boat speed of the cats, and the necessary avoidance of the slower dinghies. The same Capricorn crossed the line first and the Alpha F14 crossed in eight overall in the same division, (we finished behind, and with one cat between us and Garry on the F16 “altered” in both the first and second races)

Everyone else now packed up their boats for the night, and went to their camp sites or heated motel rooms while we had to wait in the dark and cold for a protest from an F16 Taipan that had “made contact” with the Alpha while approaching from behind at a buoy rounding. It had broken the Alpha’s tiller extension, which made it quite difficult to sail the rest of that race. After about an hour the protest committee called the protest as indeterminable as there were no witnesses other than the two boats involved. We then gladly drove back to our Motel and sat in front of the heater for about an hour before all our body parts worked again.

Next morning quite a few more cats and dinghy’s arrived to sail the three scheduled races for that day, including Greg Goodal with an immaculately turned out Capricorn.

For this third race, the first starts (mainly small mono’s) started in a breeze of only about 3 knots, and they were sailing the first leg as a beat, but just prior to the start for the spinnaker cats, the wind swung ferociously and picked up to about 15 to 17 knots. This meant that the spinnaker cat’s start would be a “mad flat out” leg under spinnaker heading right through all the dinghies hiding in the rapidly returning fog. As the wind had picked up, the air temperature had dropped several degrees, with a chill factor that was “bone numbing”, and the resulting difference between air and water temperature meant that after a, “clear, good visibility” early morning, the “fog”, now rising off of the water, was creating really “pea soup” conditions These cats started and did one “scary” speed leg to the (windward?) mark under kites, then were told to restart as there had been too many boats over the line to pick out any of the many, individual premature starters so there was a general recall. Why no dinghies were cut in half on that leg, has to be put down more to good luck rather than good judgement.

The cats restart was just as wild as the first, turning this race into a mad “speed” dash around the course as pretty much, most of the legs were sailed under spinnaker and rather than “full on racing”, great concentration had to be used, not to cut other boats in half,

The Alpha faired much worse in this race than in the previous days, two races.

Life can be tough (particularly at the start) when the wind blows hard, you are the smallest cat in the fleet, in conditions with very poor visibility, sailing in a group with everyone “on the edge” and no other thought than “going for it”.

Greg Goodall on the Capricorn crossed the line first and the Alpha crossed the finish line towards the rear, although this placing is a little deceptive as the actual time difference between first and last, in this division, for this race, was not great, as the race itself was completed in very quick time.

The fourth race, after a better start for the Alpha, and with three competitive legs sailed (the wind had moderated to about 10 to 12 knots, with the Alpha, at this time, sailing well up in the middle of the division), as it (the Alpha) was approaching the leeward mark under kite, the Tornado which had already rounded and was heading back on its beat, called a very late “starboard” on the Alpha. The ensuing sudden manoeuvres required avoiding a collision put the Alpha on its side. The luff of the sail somehow came free of the mast, and the skipper badly wrenched his shoulder. After righting the cat he had no option but to return to shore as, by having a “push up” luff on the mainsail it was impossible to reset the luff back into the mast while sailing without the skipper swimming out to the head of the mast. Not the easiest, or safest thing to do with an injured shoulder in “freezing” conditions. After coming ashore with a shoulder that was causing him a lot of discomfort, and the absolute bitterly cold conditions, I decided for him (and most importantly for my own freezing butt) that was enough for the day, so we packed up and went back to the motel. The next morning with the skipper still very stiff and sore, I decided that rather than go back to the club “for more of the same” (to us, that morning seemed even colder than on the previous day, if that was at all possible); we would pack up early and head back to Adelaide.

All in all a weekend of mixed fortunes, the on the water results and competitiveness against much larger cats with much larger sail areas, and against skippers of quality with a lot of national and international success, was very satisfying. The few small misfortunes, Melbourne traffic on the Friday night, and the bitterly, bitterly cold conditions, we will put to the back of the mind. Still, all in all, an experience that we are glad that we have now participated in. Our thanks have to go to Garry (Altered F16) for all his help and his out going nature. His presence even made the weather seem to be not quite so cold, (my feet are still numb from the cold though).

PS. the T foil rudders work an absolute treat.

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