On Saturday the 20th a fleet of 26 Mini Transat 650’s started the Mini Barcelona race. The course had been set the evening before at the briefing and we would be sailing from the start to a windward mark, rounding it to starboard, then sailing down to Casablanca oil rig and then north up to Los Palamos. before returning to Barcelona for the finish. I would be sailing the new RG650 Series class Mini Transat 650. While the RG 650 is designed as a series boat it is yet to be classed as a full production series boat so I would be racing in the prototype class.
The breeze was fresh as the five minute gun went, and the fleet of Mini Transat 650’s lined up for the start. Due to the wind strength I decided to go for a reasonably conservative start and placed the new RG650 one hundred yards from the starting boat. As the gun went I hit the line with full speed and quickly made ground on the yachts to windward, gradually one by one with superior speed to the other yachts I managed to sail the RG650 under the Mini’s to windward, and before too long the RG650 was leading the fleet, with only one prototype class mini able to sail faster than the RG650.
I worked the RG650 up the shoreline, and when I tacked the boat towards the top mark the rest of the fleet were below us. At the top mark I rounded in a remarkable second place, with only one prototype mini ahead of me, and as the Club Real Marina support boat cheered at the performance I switched the autopilot on and went below to get the medium spinnaker. Before too long I had the big medium spinnaker up and the RG650 was smoking away down wind towards Casablanca at over 12kts.
During the days leading up to the race I had been running a number of different routes using different software and different GRIB files and weather information. The conditions and the data was changing at an irregular speed as we found the conditions unusually unpredictable for the Mediterranean this time of year. Each time I ran a different scenario the route would change substantially, and on the morning of the start I gathered the final information available and set off. The most recent weather information showed the wind would back for the first six hours of the race before a change would come through and the wind would veer to the right significantly. My tactics were to sail the rhumb line, and make as much ground towards Casablanca as possible before the wind veered around.
The broad reach towards Casablanca was some of the most unbelievable sailing I have done in a Mini Transat 650, and the RG650 (keep an eye out for my video soon to be released on Youtube) was powering along at speeds of up to 15.7 kts as we surfed down waves and worked the best angles possible for maximum speed. The RG650 is normally a dry boat, but on this occasion we were so powered up there was a constant stream of water washing over the deck. It was awesome sailing and I was hooting with delight as the boat was plaining toward the bottom mark – life does not get much better than that! The wind began to pick up, and after a few hours of sailing towards the Casablanca rig I peeled to the code five, a smaller flatter spinnaker that would be more suitable to the conditions and lift the bow up over the waves. The wind began to veer before expected and to keep the speed up I was reaching at tighter and tighter angles. The RG650 was fully powered up, and I was probably pushing it to maximum limits, sailing on a knife edge at unbelievable speeds. I found the RG650 incredibly stable in such conditions and very predictable and easy to handle – Nico has surely done a fantastic job in the design of this boat as it’s handling characteristics and speed are superior to any other boat of this size I have sailed.
A stronger gust hit the RG650 ahead of an approaching front. My instant thought was that it would be time to get the code 5 down as soon as the gust was over, and as I pulled the helm back. The boat speed hit a maximum of 15.7 kts, and the chine lifted the boat flat as we surfed down the next wave. Unable to steer around the wave ahead I ploughed straight into it. The extra force of the gust on the kite was too much as the bow dived under the wave ahead and the boat speed dropped to 9kts. Something had to give. Suddenly the bowsprit that holds the spinnaker ahead of the boat compressed, and the only way it could go was up. The middle section of the bowsprit folded, and I knew that I had pushed it too hard.
Devastated knowing that I had pushed too hard and now compromised the remainder of the race, I quickly hoisted the solent up that had been previously prepared, and let the tack fly to drop the kite. In an instant the Code 5 was down below and I trimmed the solent and the mainsail to optimise the new sail selection for the course, set the auto-helm and went forward to clean up the mess and inspect the damage. Not long after the front passed over us, and the wind veered before the predicted time. I was now hard on the wind but still managing to sail a course directly towards Casablanca, it seemed that my tactics had positioned me and the RG650 in a fantastic strategic position to lay the rig. It was now time to figure our a plan to come up with a jury rig for the bowsprit as flying spinnakers would be fundamental if I were to do well for the remainder or the race.
As we neared the rig and the sun set the wind dropped off and I set the auto-helm to steer course towards the rig, trimmed the sails and then went forward armed with a roll of spectra, a boat hook, a paddle, and some spare outrigger aluminium arms. My plan was to jury rig the bowsprit by splinting it with every bit of aluminium that could be found on the boat, and I lashed the paddle, boathook and outrigger arms as tightly as possible to splint the broken prod. The job took a little over an hour, and on completion I tested it with all my weight. Satisfied that it would do the job, I returned to the cockpit to make my final approaches to the rig that was now lighting up the horizon.
While a 1nm exclusion zone exists around rigs in this area of the med, the race instructions had not specified a distance for yachts to sail around the rig and people had different angles of approach and kept different distances off the rig. I kept the rig approximately 1nm to my port side and as the fleet closed in on the rig I counted only five sets of lights ahead of me and knew that I was in a good position in the race. I rounded the rig just behind one of the Argo’s, placing me in second place amongst the series boats, and as we worked our way to windward back towards Barcelona I found that the RG650 again had fantastic speed. The wind had settled down and the boat was powering along nicely just cracked off sailing a true wind angle of approximately 50-60 degrees. I decided to make the most of the relatively constant wind and went below for some sleep as I knew the wind would not be consistent for long.
I managed a couple of hours sleep in 30minute bursts throughout the morning, and as the sun began to rise we had almost covered the 60nm back to Barcelona. After sunrise the wind began to veer again but was still blowing a good 15kts. I was attempted to hoist the code five, but I was wary that the jury rigged bowsprit may not hold the kite at these angles so decided to hold off as long as possible for the hoist and kept a watchful eye on the other yachts to see who would make the first move of hoisting the spinnaker. It did not take long before in the distance behind me I saw some yachts with the spinnakers up, and I knew that I had to go for it. I hoisted the kite, but it did not take long before the jury rigged pole compressed for a second time. I was a bit devastated that my first solution to the problem did not work, and after hauling the kite back in and re-hoisting the solent I sat down and tried to figure out a new solution. I switched back on the autopilot, but it appeared that it was not working in its normal manner. I played around with the settings of the NKE system a bit, but I am still relatively inexperienced in the NKE instruments, and even with the altered settings it would still not hold the desired course continuously as residual swell from the previous nights storm would occasionally move the boat in such a way to knock us off course beyond the autopilots control. I had to make a decision, to remain watching the autopilot as it continued to steer us towards the next waypoint, or to go forward and carry out secondary repairs to jury rig the bowsprit. The other Mini’s below me were blitzing me with their speed as they were sailing with spinnakers and I was without. I decided the priority was to affect repairs, so went forward armed with more spectra and some sail ties. I decided the most reliable jury rig would be to snap the pole in half, and re rig the bowsprit so it would be half its normal size, but strong enough to hold a kite or code zero in any conditions. It took me about one hour to remove the old jury rig, and re-create the new one, but finally the mini-prod was ready to be tested. I hoisted the big medium weight spinnaker, pulled out the tack, and the spinnaker filled. A loose luff made it harder to sail than normal, but my boatspeed automatically lifted 1.5kts and I began to hold my position against the rest of the fleet.
While I had been jury rigging the bowsprit the yachts around me had sailed on course and I had lost them in poor visibility, there were a few yachts that had caught up to me and were now laying between me and Barcelona. I would have to work hard to maintain my speed the best I could with the jury rig pole. Lucky for me conditions became once again extremely variable, and there would be a lot of sail changes and changing conditions that I could utilise tactically to try to keep up with the boats around me and hopefully catch the boats ahead.
Throughout the day we sailed towards Los Palamos our speed was good, and I could hear the odd boat chatting on the radio so I knew that I was not that far off the pace. I was only two miles from the top mark as the first of the yachts round. I estimated that I was only about 20minutes behind the leading yachts which was very pleasing indeed.I started my stopwatch to time to time the difference, Not long after that the wind died and became extremely variable. One and a half hours later, In very light winds I rounded the top mark behind them amongst three other mini’s and still in the top half of the fleet. The wind was now light and a storm was brewing to the South. While other yachts set course towards Barcelona I sailed toward the storm hoping for more wind.
The final leg towards Barcelona was extremely frustrating as the wind was coming from every direction and ranging from 0 to 20kts. No sooner had I changed sails for the new conditions but the wind would change again and I would have to re-trim and set up for another change. The next eight hours were hard work, with a sail change approximately every half an hour. Some wind shifts would favour being on the shore side of the course, others would favour being out to sea, so it was not only a hard leg physically, but also mentally as the tactics were continuously changing. I managed to make ground and overtake the yachts around me and as we neared the finish in Barcelona I was leading our group of five yachts. Two hours from the finish and a new wind set in from the South east. Unfortunately for me this would mean the other yacht would gain advantage as they could fly their spinnakers more efficiently than me. I decided to stick with the recently hoisted code zero which luff length better suited the lumpy conditions.
Slowly the other yacht were catching up. Normally these conditions would have been perfect for the RG650 and had I not broken the bowsprit on the previous night I knew that not only would the boats behind not be catching up, but I would more likely be catching up the yachts in front. I found it extremely frustrating, as I was now paying the ultimate sacrifice for pushing the boat too hard at the start of the race. Thankfully I managed to hold my speed, and only one other mini was able to catch me before the finish.
The final result would have had me in third place in the series boats (had the RG been already classified as series) and mid fleet amongst the prototypes. This is a very good result considering my disadvantage of not having a full length bowsprit and the time it took me to affect repairs. The RG650 had once again proven itself as having fantastic speed in all conditions and wind angles even despite its broken bowsprit, and I believe in this regatta the RG’s performance and sexy looks turned more than a few heads.
Arriving in Barcelona I began the task of packing the boat up for winter, the best thing about a Mini is that you can clean, maintain and pack up a boat in under a day single handed which is a lot easier than the arduous task of packing up the larger yachts I am more used to sailing. As the sun went down I completed my final tasks on the RG as I would be flying to the UK the next morning. In two days time I make my return to Australia after being away for over 18 months, and this would be the end of my summer romance with the RG650. I had made a good entry into the MIni Class with better than expected results in this international hightly competitive fleet, and I can not wait to get back in March 2013 to do my final qualifiers and prepare for the 2013 Trans Atlantic Mini Transat Race.
Jury Rig on the bowsprit – the end result was the bowsprit was half the size, so all the spinnakers lost luff tension, but at least it was better than nothing and strong enough to fly spinnakers and the Code 0 from the top of the mast – All the other mini sailors in the fleet payed respect saying it ws a “good sailors job”.
Everything out of the RG650 drying after the Barceloa race while I clean, maintain and pack up the RG650 ESP816 for the winter before my return to Australia. I hope to continue my “romance ” with the RG650 next season, once fully trained me and the RG650 should be an unbeatable team!