2020 was tricky for sailors in Sydney. 2021 has been even worse for Sydney’s offshore fleets. Major floods caused the cancellation of the Pittwater – Coffs Harbour Race in March. Lockdowns returned in July. The Sydney – Gold Coast Race was abandoned, as were the first eight weeks of the 2020/21 summer season. Not ideal.
One positive in all of this, we were allowed to sail two handed during the recent three month lockdown. So Jules Hall and Jan Scholten from J/99 Team ‘Disko Trooper’ were out every week building the miles in preparation for their tilt at the first ever two handed division in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.
Saturday 30th October marked the first race of the new season. A relatively gentle opener with a 25nm course from Sydney Harbour to a turning mark off Botany Bay and back to Sydney.
Jules reported: The southerly breeze had softened overnight so the first leg was a 12 knot reach down the harbour. We were windward boat on the line, but got too close to the southern shore suffering from the extended wind shadow.
The first turning mark was rounding South Head and out into the ocean. Somewhat deep in the fleet, we furled the code zero as we approached the mark and rounded inside the other boats. Setting off on a long starboard tack we had a Sydney 38 and J122 just ahead of us.
After a few days of southerly winds the swell was running. Most of the time it was 1.5 – 2 metres, but the occasional 3m swell was rolling up the coast. Wind was 15 – 17 knots, oscillating through 10 degrees every 15 minutes.
With full main and J2 we had a good set up. Making our way south we played the shifts and focused on boat speed. Things were looking solid. The pressure increased as we approached Botany. And the sun came out.
We rounded a few minutes ahead of the first Sydney 38 and J122 and popped the A2. With 16 knots of pressure at 160 TWA we were nicely powered up. The swell gave us good opportunities for catching waves with boat speed regularly clicking up to 11, 12 knots on a glamour run back past the eastern beaches heading north.
Two gybes late in the leg got us on the layline to enter the harbour. We rounded Hornby light with a healthy margin on the boats behind and joined the drag race up the harbour to the finish off Rushcutters Bay.
We crossed the line at 14.12hrs, taking line honours in the two handed fleet and ahead of many of the larger crewed boats. A solid hit out to start the season, but only the first step in our Hobart program.
Next race in the Blue Water Point Score Series was the Sydney – Flinders Islet race (approx 90nm return trip), held 6th – 7th November. Disko Trooper was joined by sistership J/99 Rum Rebellion (Shane and Graeme). Rum Rebellion was launched just one week prior so this was her first sail.
Jules reported: We sorted out the harbour leg this week and were first out the Sydney heads. The run south was uneventful until south of Cronulla. Our routing suggested to head inshore. The cumulus was building over the land and we assumed the sea breeze would build and go offshore. Except offshore paid, and it took us a couple of hours to realize. Down near St Helens we gybed out, passing behind Sydney 36 Salt Shaker (with a massive new running kite!) and swallowed our loss on the rest of the fleet, but found 5 knots extra pressure.
Approaching Flinders Islet we could see the bigger boats on the west of the rhumb line going very slow so we stayed out to the layline. Gybing back we made big gains on both the 2Handed & fully crewed fleet.
Heading back north the wind built and we’d caught the fully crewed boats who started 5 mins before us.
At 1700 we peeled to the #4 jib (very slowly by yours truly) and then tucked a reef in the main. We were tacking under the shore to stay out of the southerly set. The breeze softened an hour later. Back to the big jib (we need to get MUCH faster at jib changes!) and full main, but the pressure was too soft. We knew there was breeze offshore so we went hunting. It worked.
At dusk things went awry. We thought we had a major issue with our rig setup. We need to unearth exactly why but there was a nervous half hour, in bumpy seas, checking everything was in tact. It was. But we had completely wrong settings for the conditions. And now the added pressure of J/99 Rum Rebellion who had caught back the 1.5nm lead we had, and Salt Shaker who had converted her 0.5nm deficit into a 0.3nm lead.
Heading into Cronulla the games began. The gap between the three was less than a nautical mile as they approached Cronulla. “We were in a tight pack and then it was just on for young and old from there,” Jules said.
Salt Shaker was not letting us get on her windward hip and Rum Rebellion were nipping at our heels, a two hour tacking battle ensued. Playing every gust & every shift we busted our asses to get past them and Rum Rebellion was doing the same to us. Bouncing off the bricks off Botany and into the eastern beaches Salt Shaker held firm.
The harbour was horrible. 3kts breeze. 2kt ebb tide. Salt Shaker took line honours by 2 mins. Very very well deserved. We feel very lucky to have won IRC & ORC. Rum Rebellion 2nd on ORCi and 3rd on IRC – not bad for her first outing.
It was a long but rewarding day (17hours sailing) and a real privilege to sail against such a strong 2Handed fleet.
Congratulations to all the boats that made the race, many with very limited training post lockdown. A special shout out to the #SydneyDoubleHanders, and our sponsors Contender Sailcloth – those ZZ Jet Black sails went well!
Jules Hall & Jan ‘Clogs’ Scholten – J/99 Disko Trooper
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