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The 2023 Gascoigne Cup 

Photo of Erica by Ian Woodforth

Peter Williams writes, 'The weather forecast for Saturday 28 October 2023 did not look great; 5-10 knots from the ESE to E and a left-over composite swell of around 2.4 metre from NE and S. So, it was a Stugeron day for those with a propensity for the mal de mer. With 10 persons on board for the race, we were pleased to have our buckets with us.

At 11:30, we were busy pinging the start line while our wind instruments were showing anything between 0 deg M and 120 deg M, 4-8 knots and the wind vane occasionally doing a 360, which made a mess of the plot. Meanwhile the committee boat was beam onto the wind due to a strong ebb tide. About 5 minutes before the start, the wind filled in to 8-10 knots from around 100 deg M, and remained so just long enough to get the fleet up to South Head and out towards the bottom mark. But then the wind fell away and could not make up its mind where to come from. With our rig eased and our back stay rolling around in circles with the swell, we sailed soft towards anything that looked promising. Maintaining boat speed was paramount. As is often the case, one tack was slow (port) with the swell and waves causing occasional soft slamming, meanwhile the other tack was quieter and quicker.

So far, so good … nobody needed a bucket.

Photo of Minerva by Ian Woodforth

Eventually, a faint ESE breeze, around 3-5 knots, filled in. We sailed softly towards the bottom mark that lay on a bearing of 60 deg M from us and then headed out to the windward mark on a course of around 50 deg M (course axis). Our course over ground varied from 0-90 deg M, much to the consternation of our navigator. On our way to the bottom mark, a whale breached in front of us, sending much water into the air.

Rain clouds could be seen directly ahead and also on the beam to the south. The Sydney BOM rain radar had these clouds moving in a SW direction, towards us. So, we took a bet on meeting the cloud in front of us, hoping for some additional pressure from the NE. And that’s what happened. The wind filled in to 15 knots from the E with some drizzle. So, we broke open the snakes confectionary bags to congratulate ourselves. Meanwhile, most boats, including ourselves, were now feathering their light air headsails the short distance up to the top mark.

We put the buckets away.

With a windward leeward course, the downhill run was a symmetric spinnaker and a few gybes. Our target TWA downwind was around 150 deg in these conditions. The swell gave us a few fun slides, getting up on the plane occasionally. On the way down to the bottom mark, we changed to the J2.

On the way back up to the top mark and coming out of the back of the rain cloud, the wind died to around 5 knots, which just goes to prove that the minute you decide to change down a headsail, the weather always changes back and shows you the rude finger. Perhaps we should have anticipated this.

The second run down was miserable, about 5 knots, E, with plenty of wind shifts etc. We consoled ourselves by having a round of refreshing cold beers which improved our moods considerably and for some reason, improved our boat speed. Any theoretical explanation of this phenomenon is most welcome.

Coming around the bottom mark and with no rain, the wind filled in again from E at around 10 knots, so the J1 ended up being just fine. We returned the rude finger.

The final run back to the harbour was a tame affair, with a few gybes required to take advantage of wind shifts. We managed to get to Watsons Bay and cross the finish line at around 16:42:40 reaching under spinnaker. We immediately hoisted the iron mainsail and took off back to the Club, fearful of the onshore reception awaiting our late return.

It was a longer race for us and we really had no idea how we had performed. The bigger boats had vanished earlier around South Head and we had not bothered to time their rounding or indeed our own.

I would like to thank the team on Erica for their faultless concentration, excellent sail trim, accurate navigation and their good humour in frustrating conditions. I would particularly like to thank Russel for his patience … who must have been wondering whether he would ever make the Paul McCartney concert that evening.'


Trophies awarded
Gascoigne Cup, Division 1 winner: Virago (CYCA) Robert Kelly
Thelma Plate, Division 2 winner: Foreign Affair (CYCA) Matt Wilkinson