From Dorade Tactician Kevin Miller
The Bass Island Race was the perfect event to get us acquainted with conditions Dorade is likely to encounter in the Sydney-Hobart Race.
This 200-mile race is unique in that it starts at 7PM on a Friday with all boats, including the race committee boat, having their running lights on a the start. The start line is inside Sydney Harbor, with a first leg that travels 60 miles north to a mark off Newcastle. From there it’s a 100-mile leg South to Bass Island, followed by a 40-mile leg back to the finish in Sydney.
We started in a 20 knot Northeasterly under a J3 and reefed main with the breeze forecasted to slowly drop and go south throughout the course of the evening. We had a good beat out of the Harbor and it was dark by the time we exited the heads at the entrance to Sydney Harbor. The forecast was accurate and by 11PM we had unreefed and changed to our largest headsail (180%) in a clocking breeze. By 2AM we were running in a 22-27 knot Southerly in an extremely rough sea state. We had waves coming over both sides of the rail, as we were pushing hard to stay with the more modern boats knowing that the next leg was going to be even more difficult for us. It was particularly dangerous for the guys on deck, as we worked on setting the boat up for heavy air downwind as well as prepping it for a very long upwind slog.
We rounded the mark off Newcastle just before sunrise and started the upwind leg with a J4 and a reef heading offshore into an anticipated left shift along with better current. We were fortunate that within the hour the breeze had shifted enough for us to tack and point at the Bass Island waypoint. The breeze and sea state continued to build necessitating a second reef and heavily twisting off both sails to keep the boat on its feet. Dorade’s nickname of “Vomit Comet” was well earned with most of the team feeling the effects. The motion of the boat was impressive with the forward bunks becoming untenable.
Unfortunately by the end of the day the breeze had clocked right enough that we were no longer able to aim at Bass Island; this meant tacking upwind near the coast, which is definitely not our strong suit. After 18 hours of beating into 20-28 knots of wind, rain and a 2-3 meter sea state we rounded Bass Island, set our full spread of canvas to start what was meant to be a 40-mile downwind run back to the finish. The wind had other ideas for us and within an hour we were drifting – changing between spinnaker and jib several times an hour as we slowly worked our way North. Just before daybreak we finally got back into the Easterly gradient breeze, which carried us to the finish, and we crossed the line in bright sunshine just before 9AM on Sunday morning.
I have to say that this was one of the toughest races we’ve done on the boat. We’ve never pushed her this hard upwind and the amount of noise coming from down below was a little disturbing. Having said this, the boat held up better than the team! We had minimal breakage and we learned a massive amount with respect to getting ready for the Hobart Race. I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for the sailing conditions off Sydney and this race did not disappoint.
Our race results were not great, however this event was always meant to be a stepping-stone to the big event at the end of the year, the Rolex Sydney Hobary. The goal was to test and try new ideas in order to fully test the boat in the tough conditions off NSW. We’re fired up and already looking forward to the Bird Island Race next month!