Monday, January 2, 2012

Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Race - And They're Off

A fleet of 45 yachts will start the 31st Pittwater to Coffs Harbour race, the first offshore race of the New Year commencing at 1pm tomorrow with upwind conditions and a perfect day forecast for the start off Barrenjoey Headland.
Easy Tiger Photo: Damian Devine
There was plenty of activity dockside today at the host Club, The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, with skippers and crew putting final preparations to their boats in readiness for the race they dub the “warm water classic”.

Predict Wind.com and BOM forecast a 15 knot Nor' Easter for the 1pm start, building in the late afternoon and early evening to 20 knots before softening to a light ENE in the early hours of Tuesday as the fleet make their way up the mid north coast before strengthening again in the afternoon as the front runners make their way to the finish in Coffs Harbour. It will be a very tactical race on the nose as the fleet battle to windward in a tacking duel between the current and the headlands.

In one of the most competitive fleets assembled in years there will be keen eyes watching both Line Honours and handicap contenders, with a number of interesting battles within the race with a couple of Cookson 12s, Farr 40s, three Beneteau 40, four Sydney 38s and a number of 35 footers fighting it out.

Line honours favourite for the 226nm Cat Two race will be Craig Ellis' Elliot 57, 'Future Shock'. Having placed fourth in 2010 and with the absence of 'Wild Oats' and the TP52s this year, she will be hard to beat to take home the coveted Coffs Harbour Bell Trophy.

Those ready to pounce and keep her honest will be Bruce Absolon’s Volvo 60 ‘Spirit of the Maid’, Joseph Earle’s Kaiko 52 'Merlin' and 'Pretty Woman', a Farr 45 skippered by Richard Hudson. Whatever the case, at this stage it looks like the race record of 18hrs 29mins 14secs, looks safe for another year.

In terms of IRC handicap honours, there's a bunch of boats in contention including the 2011 winner ‘About Time’, Julian Farren-Price’s Cookson 12 who will be looking for back to back wins. Others in the frame include the proven handicap performers the Beneteau First 40s with ‘Close Halled’, skippered by Lake Macquarie’s Graham Hall and 3rd last year, Tony Kinsman's 'Blunderbuss' from Queensland and the CYCA’s ‘Ariel’ skippered by Ron Forster in her first full season since her launch in 2010.

'Kerisma', an Kerr 11.3 m from MHYC and skippered by Grant Dawson should come into her own in the lighter conditions and the host clubs Hudson/Lockley/Murphy Farr 45 'Pretty Woman, a proven performer over the last few years will also be hard to stop. In heavier windward conditions Ray Hudson's XP44 'Xs Moment' will also come into contention.

The two Farr 40s, Chris Way’s ‘Easy Tiger’ and the Brian Ellis skippered ‘Witchcraft’ will also relish the conditions and keep the fleet honest. For Ellis, it will mark his 27th Coffs race having only missed four in the history of this great event, making him a true Coffs veteran.

For Ellis, the conditions will suit the Farr 40 owned by Bruce Staples who won’t be on board this year. “Anything around 15 knots on the nose is good for this boat, we can maximise our sail plan and maintain good boat speed. We finished 4th last year so we hope to go better and see if we can climb that podium. We should do all right,” said a modest Ellis.

The nine crew aboard ‘Witchcraft’ are seasoned campaigners with plenty of offshore experience between them. They also know the taste of victory having won this race on handicap a couple of times before, as recently as two years ago, albeit aboard Staples previous boat, ‘Dark & Stormy Witch’.

With another Coffs veteran Peter Antill navigating and another couple of younger Ellis’ on board, son Nathan and RPAYC’s Brett to assist with tactics, helm and navigation “there will be plenty of advice on board,” offered the Ellis elder. Nathan Ellis will fly in from Hobart after celebrating his victory aboard handicap winner ‘Loki’ and will be hoping to make it back to back handicap victories in under a week.

The four boats contesting the Sydney 38 OD Division should see a great battle in a race within a race with Mark Griffith’s 'Old School' sure to test the likes of 'Audacious', 'Run to Paradise’ and 'Wizzard' all using the race and regatta as a warm up to the Sydney 38OD Nationals in late January, again hosted by the RPAYC

Griffith coming off a very successful season having won his past three regattas including the recent State Championships, is buoyed about his chances. Commenting dockside as he prepared for the race, Griffith’s said, “The conditions are looking good for us and our main aim will be beating the other Sydney 38s home. If we do that we will be very happy. We’ve had a good season so far so we hope to continue that into this offshore race. We’ve assembled another good crew of nine with Steve McConaghy our tactician. We’re looking forward to it.” This will be Griffith’s first Coffs race on ‘Old School’.

In terms of PHS, you can throw a blanket over them but the ID35 ‘The Real Thing’, the Sydney 41 from Coffs Harbour ‘B52’, and the Cookson 12 ‘OCL One’ will all be up there. Rob Alder, skipper of ‘OCL One’ purchased the boat from Warwick Sherman earlier this year and along with his crew is looking forward to his 11th Coffs race. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Alder said. “The race, for the first time, will not see us at the back of the fleet as one of the radio relay vessels, having sold our J35 this year. The Cookson 12 is ready to go. What a great way to start the New Year.”

All PHS boats will be vying to be crowned the inaugural Australian Performance Handicap champion following the five race regatta.

RPAYC Commodore Rob Curtis said, “We extend a warm welcome to each competitor and we have no doubt the 31st event will once again be competitive, challenging and fun for all concerned. I wish them all well. We have a fabulous fleet and I am looking forward to turning left for the ocean race and the racing in Coffs Harbour in what should be a tremendous regatta.” Curtis will be racing his boat, the Murray 42 ‘Secret Men’s Business #1’.

Damian Devine

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