Hopeful in Hobart – Meraki’s 2019 Australian Championships visit
7th November 2019 - by Andrew Crombie
photos by SB20 Australia
As part of Meraki’s slow and steady ramp up for the 2021 SB20 World Championships in Singapore, Geoff Masters and I decided it was necessary to get some early experience against bigger fleets and proven teams.
Hop to Hobart
Hobart is the home of SB20 sailing in Australia with all of the nation’s SB20s based there since the 2018 World Championships. The 60 boats that competed then were dominated by the French and English crews but the Hobart fleet filled all places from 6th-11th, something they improved upon in the 2019 World Championships two weeks ago in Hyeres with 3rd, 5th and 14th beating the same crews that beat them in Hobart.
With all 2019 World’s crews back home in Hobart, and with half of the top teams sporting pros, ex-national and world championships winners from SB20s and other classes, the 2019 Australian Championships promised excellent racing, but even better opportunities for us to learn.
A win first up
Sadly, not in the racing, but our AirBnB rental was a real winner for us. A 120-year-old waterfront 2-storey duplex house with a large lawn, 4 bedrooms and large spaces, we had scored straight out of the box. Nestled next door to Wrest Point and less than 100m from the yacht club. Not bad for just $2k for the week.
Another win was seeing the boat we had been given, Glen Bourke’s multiple UK championship winner and 2nd place getter in the 2012 Worlds. It has apparently not been sailed since. The condition of the boat was near perfect despite being the 20th oldest SB20 in existence, as were ALL of the 50 boats we saw around the club. There is a HUGE gap between the quality of their worst boat and our best boat. Every boat is shiny, with new sails and the latest setups. Check out the shine on our near 20-year-old boat.
The boat was provided by Nick Rogers - multiple Aust Champ, 11-time Prince Phillip Cup winner and Dragon World and World Masters Champion. Nick is the SB20 agent in Australia, longtime stalwart of the class and was to be our coach and sounding board for the regatta.
With the arrival of our for’dhand Alex Lyons, our crew dropped massively in both average age and weight. Unlike just a week before where Geoff’, Alec Cochrane’s and my lithe shapes were seen doing laps of the RM carpark in full sailing kit to get under the 270kg weight limit, the 65kg of 26 year old Alex saw us entered as the lightest crew in the fleet at 250kg with all clothes on. Yes…. Read that again…. We were the lightest, and not even the oldest, in the fleet.
Amazing what a week makes or what Australian scales can do.
Do what I say not what you do
We spent the first day walking around the park and checking all the systems interpretations of all boats. Surprisingly there was a wide variety of sheet sizes and fittings, but most notably was the amount of shock cord in the rig to prevent spinnaker fouls.
We got out on the water to test our new sails and boat, with Nick close behind in a very nice 20-foot RIB. The breeze was a steady 12-15 knots but the cold air that had replaced the hot dry bluster and bushfire smoke of the day before proved very dense and with new sails even the smallest change in pressure pushed us around. It’s noticeable how little new sails give.
With a continuous flow of suggestions from Nick on how to get the most from the boat, we started to learn how to sail the boat faster and more steadily upwind, and to try different approaches for spinnaker sets and drops, geared to minimizing problems when pressed in the expected heavy breeze.
After 3-4 hours of long works and 12 knot kite runs, we called it quits and retired for a video review and few beers. A very productive day and well worth the $$.
We spent the next day drifting up and down the bay but found training in drifter conditions was pointless, so we cut it short and went back to prep the boat.
A Cold Awakening
The first day of racing saw 20 boats head out to the start in a warm blustery NNW breeze of about 15 knots. Hobart is a PRO’s nightmare, with the breeze moving through 150º to the South East during the day and back, and ranging from 5-20 knots with periods of drifting interspersed with heavy blasts.
It’s a brave person who takes on the responsibility with so many seasoned racers on the boats ready to attack any misstep. Despite the difficulties, the race management was impeccable.
More than the tricky breeze, it was the 12ºC water temperature that got our attention. When the breeze is up, you feel every drop that makes its way into your wet gear. Something we forget in the 30ºC+ waters of sunny Singapore.
The courses were two laps of a 1NM windward-leeward course, featuring a spreader top mark setup and a gated bottom mark, and through the gate to finish.
Starts were tough and clearly not our strong point, with very short lines just able to accommodate the 20 boats gunwale to gunwale. There is no room to burst through if you are not on the line with 30 sec to go. Accelerating from standstill to pace is key even when the gas masks drop from the boom as the oxygen disappears.
In fact, coming from Singapore, our big fleet and tight proximity sensibilities were severely lacking. Fleet thinking was something we have taken away as perhaps our biggest learning.
Race Day 1
We found that we had plenty of speed but no height, and despite digging ourselves out of poor starts and back up towards the front half of fleet, we started to drop height and take sterns and, as you all know, that is the kiss of death in one-designs like SB20s.
2 of the 3 races had course changes, with the fleet splitting left and right. We felt the conservative centre route made strategic sense but were found the top locals gained on each side respectively with 15º lifts on each side and us losing ground in the centre.
Our lack of pointing meant with couldn’t easily dictate our own race and we ended up with high teens finishes, when we felt we should have been 4-5 places higher. All boats finish each race within 2-3 minutes of each other, so the racing is tight, and any errors punished hard and quickly.
Apart from lacking local knowledge, our rig settings (34/25 that came with the boat) seemed wrong for the conditions, with our forestay sagging too much for the flat water.
The 15-20 knots breeze of the first two races was replaced by a punchy 30+knots in the last race and many of the fleet were watching us as they expected Singapore carnage.
Sadly, for them, we let them down and unlike many of the locals, we kept our rig pointing toward the sky and even managed the fastest speed of the day with 18.8 knots down the last reach to pick up 5-6 boats.
Plenty of others broached and we saw the bottom of a few keels, but we kept Singapore’s honour despite never having sailed these boats in more than 15 knots.
Race Day 2
We woke to find Singapore conditions, albeit 20ºC cooler. With breeze expected to be in the 5-7 knot range, we changed the rig to Singapore settings (28/23) in the hope that this was “our” day in “our” breeze.
Sadly, it was Groundhog Day and we found ourselves in pretty much the same situation. Terrible starts, quick recovery through the fleet, speed but no pointing ability and losing out to local knowledge on the runs.
What seemed inconceivable at day’s start become reality, with us posting even worse results in the 4 races than we had on Day 1.
Crucially, we had not listened to the one piece of local insight Nick had given us, which was that the “(Derwent) river always runs out, but the tide comes in up the sides”. And that’s where the winners of each race came from despite looking parked for 90% of the runs. Even a 1 knot tide beats better breeze in the middle.
Race Day 3
Now sitting in last place on the table, somewhere none of us had ever been in any regatta, we decided we had to do something. So, we collected our learnings of the past few days, filtered from many chats with the very open and friendly top local crews, and made some changes.
With the breeze a cool and dense 12-15 knots, we changed the rig settings significantly to get the forestay straighter and played around with jib and main positions. We adjusted the backstay length to give more purchase and were extremely vigilant on boat heel.
However, our starts were even worse than before, as the increasingly more confident fleet really closed up. We managed some Houdini escapes into clear lanes and clawed our way to the top 5-10 at the top mark of each race. Our big fleet smarts let us down and we squandered some well-earned places in just seconds at the turning marks, to remind us how fast things can go South in SB20s.
However, our speed and height were better than almost everyone and we climbed over and off the top boats and got ourselves some low teen finishes to round out the regatta in 18th place – happily no longer last.
The results we wanted… without good results
Not a racing result to crow about but we never expected to be better than mid-teens. However, our objectives for learning were all met. And we met some great people and saw some excellent boats for sale and charter for our upcoming series in Singapore. Mission accomplished.
Of note is that many of the top place getters were carrying high scores, so it shows the tightness of the fleet. Great racing and excellent as a skills sharpener for bigger regattas, yet only a quick plane trip away.
Hobart is a great place and the Hobartians fabulous hosts, all very generous with their time and knowledge – a great reflection on sailing and the SB20 class. We were made to feel at home by everyone we met.
Special thanks to Nick Rogers, Steve Catchpool and the rest of the SB20 class in Hobart for a great week, and for the new friendships forged.
We are now looking at returning to Hobart for the 2020 Australian Championships in Triabunna, just north of Hobart, in March.
We hope a few more crews from Singapore will join us.
Plenty of pics here https://www.facebook.com/SB20AUS/