The 2021 Sail Port Stephens regatta switched to island time on Tuesday for race two of the Commodores Cup, with the fleet heading seawards for a course where Mother Nature lays the marks – or at least the landmarks.
Starting off Nelson Bay breakwall, the yachts donned spinnakers for a sparkling run in nor’westerly winds gusting to 18 knots.
Many hugged Yacaaba Headland under the stern gaze of seabirds and dolphins, modern sails juxtaposed against the majestic, millennium-old cliffs.
They then wove around Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah Islands, which stand like sentries at the entrance to this pristine marine park.
Leading the 108-strong fleet almost from the outset was Little Nico, with owner Adrian Walters back at the helm of his Shaw 11 and Mitch White calling the shots.
“We had a fairly average start due to a radio malfunction, but luckily a downwind start suited a downwind boat,” White explained.
“We got through the pack, then it was a case of the rich getting richer.”
The winding course and fluctuating wind strength kept the crew busy with sail changes, but it was no sweat for professional sailors Cam Ward and Josh Alexander who are enjoying a sailing holiday at Port Stephens aboard the Shaw.
Little Nico finally crossed the line four minutes ahead of Rob Dawes’s Marten 49 Indigo II, albeit their advantage had been about 10 mid-race.
“Indigo sucked six minutes out of us on the final beat because they’re a much bigger boat,” White added.
“Unlike yesterday, though, the weather gods went our way as the wind eased after we finished.”
The result lifted Little Nico into third overall for the series, equal on 10 points with Indigo II.
Andrew Pearson’s Beneteau First 45 Highly Sprung leads on six points from Middle Harbour clubmates Rob Aldis and Sandy Farquharson on Khaleesi.
Division 2 saw another strong result for the Italia 11.98 Cicero, skipper and importer Mark Hellyer adding a second placing to his first from Monday 19 April.
Drummoyne Sailing Club’s Arch Rival won today’s race and now sits second on eight points overall, one ahead of Peter Horne’s Bling from Lake Macquarie.
It was déjà vu in divisions 3 and 4, Dale Sharp’s Farr 31 Sofarr and David Rundle’s Smoke and Mirrors both winning for the second consecutive day.
The PHS handicappers may be watching them like seabirds before today’s finale.
“It was a great day out there,” Sharp said.
“We got around the Heads in good shape and managed to keep the boat going through the puffs.
“Through the islands I think we went from third in division into first … and it set us up for a really good race to the finish with Salt Shaker.”
Just last month, Sofarr was tee-boned in a racing incident on Lake Macquarie but is now patched up and sporting a shiny new paint job.
Being an ex-J24 sailor, Sharp has rigged the yacht with all the control lines leading back to the pit, where the brains trust can pull the strings while two sizable twin brothers perch on the gunwales, swinging the boat down.
“There’s some breeze predicted for [today] but we’ll be fine if we get some upwind sailing.”
Continuing the déjà vu theme, Salt Shaker and Liquid Force both grabbed the same podium places as Monday.
The Jeanneau Hells Bells is five points adrift in fourth but flying under the radar.
The Fareast 28R’s came to the fore today in division 4, many of them managing to carry their asymmetrics longer than others. Rob Reynolds, representing Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, and Chicken Lips, skippered by Mark Hillis from the NSW rural town of Wagga, were second and third respectively.
Lurking within striking distance of Smoke and Mirrors are Stephen Ellis’s Agent 88, Chaos Theory and Chicken Lips.
- by Mark Rothfield