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A typical summer weather pattern in Perth for the Bunbury and Return Ocean Race

by Susan Ghent 16 Feb 05:50 GMT 12-13 February 2021

The Bunbury and Return Ocean Race came about in 1948 when a few adventurous sailors from the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club decided to have a race from Fremantle to Bunbury. Thereafter it became an annual return race and is still to this day one of the favourite events on the Ocean Racing WA calendar. The 170 nautical mile course requires teams to settle into an offshore routine and consider their strategy for the expected weather conditions over the duration of the race.

At the race briefing, the Bureau of Meteorology announced a typical summer weather pattern for Perth and the coastline down to Bunbury. Competitors could expect the sea breeze to develop through the afternoon on both days and turn offshore during the night. Warm waters and moderate seas.

In the Gilmour house, Father and Son were preparing for the big race. Lachy (24) would be part of the crew on Indian, a modern Carkeek 47 while Peter was preparing to race the beautiful Salacia II, an S&S 48 launched in 1970. When asked about racing his Dad, Lachy said he was stoked to see him dust off his wet weather gear and get out on the oldest boat in the fleet with some of his old America's Cup mates. He commented that "it's such an awesome thing about our sport that a boat like Salacia II can race against a modern racer like Indian". Both hailing from the host Club, on the water Salacia II with Peter Gilmour at the helm and Indian helmed by Paul Eldrid engaged in a bit of pre-start shenanigans. Lachy continues "He caught us on starboard in the prestart with a whole lot of yelling and screaming but I think what was just on old boy trick to try and taunt us. I'm pretty sure it put them off their game to actually have a good start".

The race began at midday in a developing sea breeze. A flotilla of spectator vessels came out to watch the start which was in close to the beach in North Fremantle. After turning at the day buoy the fleet headed to a marker out to sea before heading for the Bunbury turn. Most teams hugged the coast on the journey south, working the left-hand side of the racetrack and considering their positioning for the night time winds. A couple took a big dig out to sea including one of the double handed teams on The Edge but this didn't pay off for them.

The Farr 1104 Cannonball had three crew who contested the 2019 Sydney to Hobart together on a chartered boat and one who was new to offshore. Skipper Dan commented that it was a fun race and fairly easy, they were able to get some rest. He also commented "We are finally learning how to sail the boat well, especially to windward, she's a bit counter intuitive." The boat was built in 1977 and has a long history racing offshore, previously named Golden Eagle. He continues, "We stayed close to the shore on the way down, taking the lifts and navigating our way in and out of the reefs. The breeze turned, we reached into Bunbury in good time. Coming back we stayed offshore to pick up the seabreeze, it came in at up to 25 knots for us and we had a great run back". Prior to the race the crew were commenting on the old winch handles on Cannonball, possibly from the 70's. Dan offered to buy new ones if they won the race. So he'll have to make a trip to the chandlery now, they placed first in Division 2 on IRC and PHS as well as first overall on PHS combined. In the race to the Bunbury turning mark they were less than a minute off the win on IRC corrected time coming in behind Obsession (MAT 1245, Paul Arns).

Also making excellent time to meet the team from Koombana Bay Sailing Club, anchored as Mark Boat Bunbury, was Salacia II she was the seventh boat to arrive and placed first on PHS in this race within a race. Owner Ross Norgard said "it was an amazing race with a strong sea breeze getting up to 23 knots meaning our big no 2 headsail overpowered our ageing grinders. We were going like a train upwind and exceeded our expectations. Winds then faltered so we had a slow ride until we got near Rottnest where we picked up a 19knt sea breeze." It is understood that those ageing grinders, being the crew, are fuelled by excellent catering and rest in a luxurious interior, this helps them to keep up with the fit young crew powering the modern race boats.

Turning in Bunbury just prior to 1am, Craig Carter's Indian was flying but not quite ahead of her race record time. For the trip north to the finish she took the rhumb line with an eye on the west looking for stronger wind pressure. After arriving at the turning point to the finish 60kms ahead of the fleet, sadly the wind shut down. She crawled helplessly into the finish line as the fleet caught the building sea breeze and charged up the coast closing the gap on Indian and shattering the hopes of a win overall for the team. After sailing such a perfect race, line honours was just not enough.

The race to round out the podium over the line was an exciting one. Supporters eagerly watched the race updates on the online yacht tracker. It was so tight between the 40 footer pack Obsession, CheckMate and Al Fresco. Obsession comments, "On the reaching and downwind legs home, we were pushed the whole way by our close competitor Checkmate. Their decision to go out for breeze paid off for them as they snuck past shortly before the finish, well sailed."

Overall winner of the 73rd Bunbury and Return Ocean Race was Geoff Bishop's CheckMate, they sailed their Summit King 40 well. Fighting hard on the return leg they took a line much further out to sea. It paid off, they picked up stronger winds and passed their rival Obsession while keeping John Rayner's Al Fresco, a Bakewell White 36 behind.

Giddy Up (James Halvorsen, Farr 395) had a fairly lonely race north coming in after Al Fresco over the line she placed third on IRC and PHS in Division 1. Behind them there was quite a tight battle going on with Division 2 boats Atomic Blonde (JPK 10.80, Simon Torvaldsen), Crush (Jeanneau Sunfast 3600, Charley Riley on the helm) and Salacia II mixing it up with Division 1 teams. Chris Higham's Argo, an Archaumbault RC40 led the pack with Twitch (Barry and Betty Walsh, Beneteau First 44.7) chasing behind and Wayne Pitcher's J122 Lithium following in from further out to sea.

Onboard Lithium was 15-year-old Maxime Goudeau, the youngest sailor in the fleet. He has come through the Junior ranks and the youth program at Hillarys Yacht Club. Maxime's mentor Chris Kelly completed his first race at the same age aboard Valkyrie in 1966 but it took 4 days to arrive back in Fremantle back then. Skipper Wayne said it is important that the youth were given an opportunity to develop their skills as early as possible. Maxime has become a valuable crew member of the Lithium crew.

After the race, Lachy Gilmour says he didn't get many words out of his Dad who returned home half a day later and went straight to sleep. Competitors gathered at Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club the following afternoon for a friendly catch up to share their tales from the race.

Full results available here.

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