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J/111 Silvers in Melbourne-Sydney Hobart

by Peter Gustafsson of J/111 BLUR.SE Fame 15 Jan 2023 18:42 GMT

Commented Peter in his email he sent to the editor, "I sailed this year's infamous Melbourne to Hobart ("a race for Vikings and Lunatics") on the J/111 GINAN. I helped Cameron and Nigel with boat setup during 2022, and we copied many of the solutions we have implemented on BLUR... they worked well!

We managed to get 2nd overall in a race that favored the big boats by a lot. Not a bad performance for us! My race report is up here.

Here is my report... Best, Peter

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"It all started with an email.

I get lots of emails from new J/111 owners, and I'm always happy to help if I can. But this time, it was slightly different. Cameron Mckenzie and Nigel Jones were experienced offshore sailors, having each done 10 to 15 Sydney to Hobarts and numerous Melbourne to Hobart races, usually on 40 to 52 ft boats. They had just bought the J/111 GINAN and wanted to take the boat offshore, with the 50th Melbourne to Hobart Race as the primary objective for 2022.

I got many very specific questions and decided to set up a Zoom call to go through them. Apparently, the team was impressed with my 48-page PowerPoint(!), and one thing led to another.

In my mind, this was an "easier" race than Sydney to Hobart. But, I later discovered that the opposite might be true. As someone so poetically commented on our Facebook page- "the Westcoaster is a race for Vikings and lunatics". I'm guessing I'm a bit of both!!

I arrived in Melbourne a few days before Christmas and had the chance to do an evening race as well as "Cock of the Bay" onboard GINAN. As I hadn't raced since August, I wanted to spend as much time as possible on board before getting out on the Bass Strait.

In the weeks leading up to the start, we had help from a marine meteorologist and ocean analyst Jessica van Kinderen. The forecasts showed a front passage with 40+ knots over 6-12 hours, gusting to 50 knots. But, the latest models were more moderate with shorter periods of 30-40 knots. Still, something to take seriously along a coast with few escapes.

1. Start to "the Rip"

The start was a light downwind affair, with the tide going out. So important not to get too close to the line. We got a good start in free wind by being the most northern boat on our start line. Decent pressure but hard to find a lane. And maybe the boats to the south had slightly better pressure. A very good approach to the first mark at Queenscliff, where we managed to gain a lot on the boats to the north of us.

2. Bass Strait

Finally offshore. Even if the start is exciting, there's something special about getting into the rhythm and focusing on the big picture. So far, Bass Straight looked rather pleasant.

At 15:20 we hooked into the forecasted 15-20 knots easterly and changed from A2 to code 0. Fast sailing south. The setup was very similar to Blur, and Ginan uses our polars (slightly modified). So the performance numbers on the mast displays felt very familiar.

At 20:30, northeast of King Island, the wind increased to 22-24 knots, and we went to jib. We had gone low and fast and were west of the fleet. Time to position ourselves for the trough.

At 00:30, just east of King Island, the trough hit us, and the wind dropped to 10 knots and TWD went from 25 to 260 degrees, back to 12 degrees, and then 280. Frustrating, but we managed the transition fairly well.

3. Between King Island and Tasmania

After the stormy trough, the wind became northerly at 15-20 knots. Pretty much as the weather models predicted. We got the A5 up and averaged >12 knots for over 90 minutes. Topped 18+. A very confused sea state, and wind against tide, made it hard. But I think other boats had an even harder time.

Fun sailing on the edge as the sun rose over Tasmania. A few wipeouts, but nothing major.

We managed to time our two gybes very well, and I think this transition was key to our result. Well done by Greg on nav and the whole team for pushing hard.

The tracker shows our movement relative to the fleet, where we go from being the most westerly boat to the most easterly one by positioning well for both the gybes

The real cold front hit at 07:40 with up to 34 knots from the west. The wind went from 330 to 240 degrees.

We had an issue with the J4, and I remember helming, going full speed with the A5 straight toward the beach. It felt a lot closer than on the track above.

4. Rugged west coast of Taz

Went for double-reef and storm jib. Then, we upshifted to J4 and shook reefs in and out all day. The J/111 is pretty fast at TWA 60, but also extremely uncomfortable in the crazy seaway we were subjected to (yes, it's easier on the Baltic Sea!).

As I wrote in my presentation in February, "crew breaking conditions" and almost 24 hours along the west coast took its toll. Multiple wave systems made it even harder - long swells in combination with rather steep waves after the front passage, making it bumpy and wet.

5. Southern Ocean (yes, for REAL!)

Finally, in the early hours of the morning, we could get the code 0 up. Even if we were tired, we felt that we'd managed the worst part, and now needed to keep pushing to not get caught by a high-pressure system that was moving in fast in our direction.

It was at this point I started to reflect on the whole experience. That this place was exactly how people had described it throughout the years; the dark grey sky, the wind that feels more powerful than normal, the long swell, and the albatrosses. This, paired with the rugged and inhospitable west coast of Tasmania made it feel very special. And naturally, I promised myself to never do it again.

6. SE coast Taz to Storm Bay entrance to Hobart

Waves got better as we got east to northeast, but we struggled a little with pressure. We felt that the boats before us had more wind and that boats behind us might be affected by the high.

We were headed all the way and almost made it into the river under A2, but when we got to North Bruny the wind increased and we peeled to the code 0.

7. River Derwent to Hobart finish

At the Iron Pot near the opening of the River Derwent, we got headed even more and had to go to J2. We stayed close to the right shore (northern side) to avoid the current. I'd heard all the stories about being becalmed just before the finish, But, this time it looked like a good breeze all the way. However, as we all know, it's not over "till the fat lady sings"! LOL.

And, finally, we got to use the code 0 for the final stretch into Hobart and the finishing line.

8. Hobart finish

Most of us have seen the welcoming scenes from Hobart, where people line the docks to welcome the yachts. But, it was much more emotional than expected to be there and have our families cheering.

This is a real challenge, even for sailors that have done it many times. And, for us that did it for the first time, it felt like a real achievement.

We came 2nd overall in both ORC and AMS, and I think everyone was happy with the result. With a new boat and a short time to get it set up for this type of race, I'm very impressed with what Cameron, Nigel, and the rest of the crew have achieved.

Because of the weather, we couldn't touch Maritimo, and there was no place along the course where we could have been 40 minutes faster.

Summary

So many thoughts after a race like this. I'll try to summarize the major ones.

This is a very special place, and racing to Hobart, either from Melbourne or Sydney, is a bigger challenge than most offshore races. It's beyond a yacht race.

Experienced sailors who have done a number of these races have a different way of setting up their boats for offshore racing and managing safety. Lots of learnings here for my team and me. One example is the thorough "Ginan Safety and Operating Manual" that everyone got to prepare for the race. We could sometimes push harder and have more people on the rail, but to perform well down here, you must preserve crew.

The J/111 is surprisingly capable in rough conditions. Sure, it's very uncomfortable and wet, but it behaves well in 30-40 knots. We've seen this in many races with BLUR, and this was another great example of its capabilities. Maybe the light boat and lack of stability keep forces down and demand that you go to smaller sails earlier [Ed's Note- Tes, indeed! We discovered that on many Chicago-Mackinac Races blowing in the 30 to 60 kts range, the earlier reef or change to J4 always paid dividends].

To be able to sail a boat actively in these conditions, you need to change modes easily and without too much risk to the crew. It has to be easy to change back and forth between reefs and jibs!

Usually, it takes a couple of weeks before I change my mind, and would consider doing an offshore race again. But this time, I felt a stronger urge to go back. A more emotional response than usual. It's a good thing we still have Sydney Hobart on our bucket list.

A big thanks to Cameron, Nigel, their families, my family, the crew, ORCV, and everyone else that made this possible. We're overwhelmed by the hospitality and can't wait to return to Melbourne.

More information at www.jcomposites.eu/j-111-sport-sailboat

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