Belying a tropical 30-degree heatwave, Sail Port Stephens got off to a chilled start on Monday in light and fickle westerly winds that preceded a late afternoon glass-out.
A record 78 boats – spread across three divisions for the first time – greeted the starter for a downwind dash from Nelson Bay to Shoal Bay, with the Ker 40 Showtime showing a clean transom to the chasing pack in Division 1.
From there it was a race of two halves, a work into a shifty 5-12 knot followed by a run in a fast-fading breeze. Fortune favoured those who’d done well early, as all three division winners on PHS were also the respective line honours victors.
Showtime co-owners Mark Griffith and Campbell Letchford nailed the start and, once in clean air, they sailed their own race.
“The breakwater side of the line was favoured so we gained 200 metres on the boats closer to the pin and then gradually pulled away,” Griffith said. “Then at the end of the race we got home before the wind shut out.”
Letchford said the Pittwater-based crew enjoyed the passage racing format that epitomises the laid-back Commodores Cup.
“We’ve won an IRC State Championship here at Sail Port Stephens but this was our first Commodores Cup. It was like being in the tropics without having to travel a couple of thousand miles,” Letchford said.
At the finish Showtime was seven minutes clear of its nearest rival, Toy Story. The Farr 44 Seahawk (Pete and Drew Van Ryn) from Cronulla grabbed second place on PHS in Division 1 from Warwick Miller’s well-sailed Beneteau First 50 Lumiere.
It was a similar story for Dennis Cooper’s Amante (CYCA), with the Sydney 36 managing to hold off the Sydney 38 Austral across the line.
“We were a bit late to the start because I misjudged the tide, but we hit the lead in our fleet after a few hundred metres and never looked back,” Cooper said. “From our point of view, it was absolutely perfect. That boat just loves going to windward in that weight of breeze [12 knots] and we took full advantage.”
Austral was second on handicap, Rhumba third.
The Jeanneau Sunfast 37 Macscap gained bragging rights in both its class and Division 3, again by being in the right place at the right time. Skipper Peter McLelland said the boat’s overlapping headsail provided the power needed to work into a winning position.
“We came around Middle Island just as the wind was dying, then the race committee shortened course about 200 metres in front of us,” he said. “We were pretty happy with that decision, although I felt for the guys who missed out at the end because we’ve been there ourselves.
“My crew did a great job today as we really had to work the kite on the run home. The breeze would be right behind us one minute and then the next moment we were reaching.”
Gosford entry Even Finer finished second on PHS, while Derek Sheppard’s Spider 22 Blacksheep grabbed the final podium placing.
The shiny new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 440 Minnow made its Australian racing debut in Division 2, with dealer Lee Condell from Performance Boating at the helm to help the owner.
“It exceeded my expectations with the way it performed in the lighter airs,” Condell said. “I thought it would need at least 12 knots true to come alive but it actually felt really good in as little as seven knots.
“The numbers were really impressive, and we caught and pulled away from quite a few larger boats going upwind.”
In the absence of a spinnaker, Minnow was eventually caught in the glass-out and missed the time limit by just six minutes.
“The owner is more into cruising and twilight racing, so we only have a short overlapping headsail for racing. But the hull has so much form stability that it feels rock solid and accelerates really easily – I can’t wait to take it out in a breeze.”
Unfortunately, Condell may have to wait a little longer as light to moderate southerlies are predicted for tomorrow, also bringing cooler temperatures.
Margaret Rintoul V is the largest yacht in the Commodores Cup fleet. After a frenzied start, the Frers 61 made up considerable ground to be third past the gates, placing 6th on handicap.
Skippering Margaret Rintoul V was Graham Morton, who is also co-owner. “We had a slow start but managed to claw it back. It was a good hit-out considering we haven’t sailed together in nearly two years.”
Morton has been an avid fan of Sail Port Stephens since its inaugural year.
“It’s a great event for us to come to. Its challenging sailing and it’s a great part of the world. We are looking to improve each day, we want to put in a competitive showing.”
The fleet headed towards the islands for day two of the Commodores Cup on Tuesday, as a 10-knot sou-easter allowed crews to get a taste of the blue waters and surfing beaches off Port Stephens.
Starting off Nelson Bay breakwall, the popular Three Islands course took the 78-boat fleet on a scenic loop around Cabbage Tree, Boondelbah and Little islands located just outside the heads.
Conditions once again favoured the slippery, light-displacement boats, with Pittwater’s Showtime (Mark Griffith and Campbell Letchford) claiming its second line-honours/handicap double to stretch its lead in Division 1.
The Ker 40 crossed the line over nine minutes clear of the fleet to stay ahead of the PHS handicapper. Second across the line was Anthony Paterson’s giant killing Melges 32 Tow Truck, which kept the 61-footer Margaret Rintoul V and canting-keeled Farr 36 Toy Story at bay.
Michael Rowe’s 9-metre Bullet claimed second on Division 1 PHS, edging out Cronulla yacht Sea Hawk. The result, however, moved Sea Hawk, an IMS-era Farr 44, to second overall in the division after yesterday’s 2nd placing.
“We’re having an amazing run with this boat, certainly sailing a lot better than last year,” skipper Peter Van Ryn said. “We replaced our 11-year-old mainsail this year and the boat has more power now, but we’re still surprised at how well we’ve gone in the light.”
The yacht is one of four from Port Hacking and Van Ryn is loving the week of racing.
“Why wouldn’t we?” he added. “It’s such a nice regatta and they run it so well.”
Tow Truck is sitting third in Division 1 on PHS with nine points.
Division 2 had another lightweight bolter in the Melges 24 Knot Ready, which has been chartered from host club Corlette Point Sailing Association.
Skippering on Tuesday was Brendan Brown, an expat Australian who has lived in Zurich, Switzerland, for the past 20 years. Also on board is high school mate Adam Manders, along with Fletcher Johnson and Graeme Dunlop from Melbourne.
“I thought I’d come here to escape the cold,” Brown said. “It’ fantastic to be here, especially with the warm temperatures. Last week in Switzerland I couldn’t antifoul my own boat [a J24] because it never got warmer than 9 degrees.”
The passage race formula enabled the crew to get the trim right and maintain boat speed. Surfing home under kite they hit a top speed of 9.3 knots in 10 knots of breeze, holding off a Melges 32 until just before the finish.
The crew are using the Commodores Cup as tune-up before the Australian Sports Boat Association Nationals start at Sail Port Stephens on Friday, taking turns on the helm to see who works best in the different roles.
With one race remaining, the Division 2 overall leaders are Amante on 4 points, Austral on 8, and Excapade on 10.
Gosford’s All Our Girls, a Southern Ocean 32, triumphed in Division 3 after posting a 14th in Race 1, edging out Derek Sheppard’s tiny Spider 22 Black Sheep, which was a creditable third over the line.
It moved the consistent Black Sheep to the Division 3 lead with one race remaining.
“The weather was favourable for us today because the bigger boats struggled to get through the swells at the heads,” Sheppard said. “One thing we noticed though, being half the size of everyone else, is that we just about got lost in the troughs.”
Sheppard, from Port Kembla, has downsized from a Beneteau 45 for this year’s regatta. “I sold the big Black Sheep about six weeks ago. We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to buy next, but we knew we couldn’t miss Sail Port Stephens,” he added.
“We thought the Spider would be a bit of fun to play around on in this regatta and the 50th anniversary Marlay Point regatta. That said, we were a bit worried this morning when none of us could move after one race in 5 knots of breeze.”
Black Sheep sits on 5 points from Clean Sweep on 8 and Macscap on 9.
All division outcomes can potentially change with Wdnesday’s final Commodore’s Cup race.
The Commodores Cup continues until Wednesday, with the official presentation taking place at the Beach Buoys Ball.