The Island to Island marathon or the Peter Loft Marathon is something I have been interested in a long time. I remember Brendan Todd on a Lechner winning the Island to Island Marathon which was run by Bill Joselin back in the day, and I remember seeing windsurf stars like Scotty OConnor there.
The Peter Loft Marathon starts from BYRA (Bayview Yacht Racing Association) on the Southern shore of Pittwater. The mark is Lion Island rounding to port which is the half way point and back to finish at the club where you ring a bell and yell out your sail number to finish. The first part of the race is a foot race from the grass to your boat / windsurfer in the water. It is held on the first Sunday of May and the start time is 12 noon.
The forecast was for 15 to 20 knots North to North-West. Great forecast for wind this time of year, April- May is typically light winds. However I was not to encourage by the wind direction as the westerly doesn’t really get into most parts of Pittwater. I was hoping to borrow one of Dave Bell’s Mistral One Design Long boards. But for whatever reason I left it too late to drive around to get it. I also misread a text from Rob Scaroff who had an Exocet race board to lend me. I rang Sean Dayhew who has probably windsurfed these waters more than anybody in recent years. He gave an encouraging report which gave me hope that I could use my Formula Board! On race day Dean Seal got there early and rang me and said, “mate the wind is coming straight down the harbour strong, get here!!” with that I got in the car and drove as fast as I could right at the speed limit.
When I get there it is light and nor west. I don’t know if Dean has done the old trick! Saying it is awesome wind just to get your mates out of the house! It looks possible foe Formula sailing I am excited and feeling positive and I can see if I link with a gust then I will get going and will be up and away.
I rig a GUN Sails 12m GSR race sail and a put a Kashy 78cm cut down fin into my Patrik Formula 4 air inside. This is cutting edge windsurf gear and I’m really hoping I will plane the whole way around the course to show the sailing community how awesome and relevant windsurfing is.
The start flag goes up and I let out a WOO HOO as I run over the sand flats to my board that is wedge into sand in knee deep water.
Sailing out through the moorings it doesn’t look good for me. The dingys are lifting up and sailing around me. The water is getting chopped up. I see a gust that will get me going, I try to pump onto it but cant get going quick enough and get rolled by two big dingys. I wait for the next gust and this time I get up planning onto a beam reach and start to get out of the moorings. I check my position in the fleet and I am not last but close to it. The leading boats are already at Scotland Island. I am much lower on the course and sailing low to get away from the wind effect of Scotland Island. As soon as I’m in clear wind I quickly catch the leading group but not without a lot of effort. Richie Reynolds is also tracking well on his Raceboard.
By about Sand Point a leading group has broken away from the main field. There is an A-Class Cat, many various Hobies, 16ft Skiff and me. Some of the Catamarans are starting to establish a very nice lead.
Generally the wind is light and I am just planning. It is critical I stay on the plane as a Formula board is dead in the water otherwise. As such sometimes in the lulls I have to bear away to maintain water flow under my board and fin. I also have to look for nice wind to tack so I can pump back up onto the plane in pressure. The 16ft skiff in comparsion was sailing very well in been able to position themselves where they wanted on the course by pinching or footing according to where the wind was. I didn’t have that luxury, if only I had a little more wind then I could have tacked where I wanted and maintained better height. Dean and I had discussed tactics before the race, we wanted to stay roughly two thirds away from the western shore as it was in the lee of the wind and one third away from the eastern shore as the wind was backing up and slowing onto that shore. It wasn’t too bad to be on the eastern shore but the wind angle seemed to be better in the middle. Even knowing this I still kept falling down onto the eastern shore and then getting into even worst situations with moorings. Anyway all things considered I was doing a pretty good job even if I do say myself.
Coming up to Palm Beach Headland I had overtaken some Hobies and the 16ft skiff, going well I was looking forward to getting away from the influence West Head had on the wind and into open water. But the wind dropped and I parked!! I also then manage to get myself too close to the windward side of the Palm Beach headland. I was very disappointed with myself and suddenly started to feel the fatigue. All the work I had done slipped away as I watched the other boats sail away. Then wind came in and quite hard. Out into clear open ocean battling swell from the east and wind chop the nor-west, pretty soon I am hoping the wind doesn’t increase anymore. I decide to tack mainly as I need a rest from port tack. Now I’m heading directly at Lion Island. It’s much easier sailing on Starboard tack and I should get a nice wind bend from Lion Island as a bonus. At this point I notice the cats sailing downwind and how slow they are!! This race is going to be between me and the 16 footer! It is game on. At the bearaway around Lion Island I am just behind the 16 footer and they take the island wide to hoist the spinaker. I take a look, it looks shallow in close to Lion Island and nervously I shoot through and cut the corner and I make it. The wind is howling between the island and the mainland. Is it a narrow band of wind and it takes many gybes to stay in the wind pressure. As I get further away from the land effect I get into the confused swell chop and start to get super tired. I started to lose control in the strong wind and swell and chop and I am flat out battling to keep my 12m out of the water. Struggling I see the 16footer fly away from me. At one point I can barely sheet the sail on and have to stop and grab the mast. I take another glance at the 16, they are sailing deep and still super fast opening up a huge gap. Only minutes before I was racing for first place now I was battling to survive. I use a lull in the wind to get back into the race and regain control. I guess tried too hard by doing too many gybes too quickly. At least I learnt a lesson for next time.
Once I am in the harbour I start sailing the board fast an in control. The A-Class cat capsizes and the hobbies are running with their booms out. Halfway down Pittwater only the 16footer is in front now, even though I am sailing faster they have I huge lead still. I am cramping up in the calf muscles and generally feeling the pain all over. The wind is quite light now about 10 knots but I am charging at least twice as fast as the wind. I see gust in front of me downwind and sail into them, it actually feels great. Sailing the full length of Pittwater with the gear working unreal, this is sailing!!
All of a sudden the 16 footer drops it spinnaker!! maybe a broken halyard, then I see what they are doing. A big gust is compressing against Scotland Island, they where sailing shy up to meet it. Even though I am I long way back I know I will sail up to that gust and though it so its game on again. I was probably as far back as Clareville and have to put the afterburners on, back foot in the outside strap and really hiked out hard!! This new course and gust did take us close to Scotland Islands and would eventually into the island wind shadow, perhaps I should stayed on my original deeper course. We both had two more gybes for the final run into the moorings and bay to finish at the yacht club. I was still behind so I gybed a little earlier to sail a shorter course but in more island wind shadow. I was preparing myself for a big pump session. The 16 sailed further for a little shyer course for the lighter wind. I was lucky and had nice wind and had good pumping rhythm but in the end the 16footer got me by 38 seconds. The 16 footer, sponsored by Fluid, skippered by Matt Stents sailed very well I thought. They sailed their boat perfectly in the rough stuff and the light stuff and their positioning for the wind was excellent. They deserved there win.
At the presentation I did not get a prize. Strange I thought as despite my mistakes I still sailed a great race most of the time and I was using the latest technology in windsurfing has to offer and the boats coming in after me had dying wind, so afterwards we check the results page and Richie Reynolds and I are not listed at all. Richie and I where the two best windsurfers on this day. I wasn’t sure if Formula had a yardstick so I was OK with me not on the list but why was Richie not there?
Anyway they added both of us after checking the finishing records. When they applied the yardstick to me I had won the corrected time by a huge margin so I felt compelled to explain my windsurfer is a development class. My board is hollow, stiff and light, my sail is 12m huge!! Maybe the yardstick is wrong now and needs to be updated? Richie who is a senior class leader and leading racer says in a regal voice a new yardstick number of 88. I was wondering how he figures that but I agree anyway and it still has me winning.
All in all the results left me a bit flat. I really wanted to win and inspire kids and adults to windsurf. I believe windsurfing is very good for people. I have sail on 18 footers, 49ers and Skiff Moths etc. I know both dingys and windsurfers.
I don’t think $5000 or $6000 Optimists is for every kid. And all dingy classes are costly to campaign seriously.
This will be the third Olympics in a row we have not contested the mens windsurfer.
Rather than hundreds of Optimists we should have 20 or 30 Bic Techno windsurfers in every club. We should be in this country embracing windsurfing as the cheapest way to get athletic technical racing.
Im sure the Race Officer simply just missed us but I really think there should be a attitude shift where windsurfing is looked for and promoted and celebrated. This would be the responsible of Yachting Australia to make this mental shift throughout clubs in Australia.
One of the key and unique things about windsurfing is the universal joint that joins the sail to the board. This flexible uni joint separates the forces of the sail to the forces of the board. The Centre of Lateral Resistance is felt through the feet and The Centre of Effort is felt through the hands. This actually gives you a greater understanding of what is going on and ultimately makes you a better sailor. Every sailor should windsurf.
At the very least I had a fantastic competitive race with great tactics and strategies which I enjoyed immensely. A big thank you to BYRA for a great event.