New Zealand, 2012 Hurricane Classic
Worser Bay, Wellington
28 & 29 January
The 2012 Hurricane Classic always looked like being just that, a classic, and it delivered in spades.
Current leader of the NZOK Tour (and Worser Bay Boating Club Vice Commodore) Luke “Colt” O’Connell stepped up to the plate this year and organised a fantastic event, kicking off with a gathering for a few powerades at a local establishment in Miramar followed by a delicious Indian curry and a couple of Tiger beers to wash it down. With the forecast (typically, for Wellington) predicting the possibility of a hurricane, all competitors wrapped the evening up fairly early and retired to a night accompanied by the usual Wellington sound of wind howling in the trees.
Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny and the Wellington met service forecast was right on the money (not a difficult task for the Wellington met service: just predict wind a lots of it), northerly blowing 20 bags as the milk was poured on the cereal and the toast buttered.
Down at the club 19 intrepid OK sailors rigged their boats, interspersed with regular checking of the size of the “sheep in the paddock” and standing in line for the amenities (Ben Morrison spotted there 3 times, blamed the curry).
Race 1 got underway under sunny skies and a northerly of 20-22 knots with the odd puff a little higher. Gouch Rhodes immediately hit his straps, handing out a sailing lesson for the first 95% of the race and establishing a massive lead, only to watch it evaporate down the run as a hard-charging bunch came roaring down on a line of breeze. Luckily for Gouch the bottom mark loomed up just in time and he was able to sneak round inside Steve McDowell, Greg “Bubble” Wright and Colt O’Connell, this being the order across the line. Notable performance in this race was from Bubble Wright - having shelved the OK for most of the season on a pot-hunting mission in the Zephyr, he returned to a real man’s class to show his best form ever in the breeze. Look out all you gold card holders, Bubble is in top form!
Much to everyone’s surprise, race 2 got underway in a slightly moderated breeze of 15 gusting 18 (what was Wellington playing at??). After a general recall the fleet powered off the line and charged for the left. Those who managed to hold their line were nicely rewarded, with the Bushwhacker Dan Bush leading at the top followed in a bunch closely by McDowell, Colt, Matt Stechmann, Ben Morrison, Gouch and Nige “Zac” Mannering. Some outstanding downwind speed down the reaches saw McDowell take the lead and make a break while the others all jostled for position. This included Morrison charging into 3rd on the second reach, only to push it too far, take a swim and drop out of contention. Up the next work McDowell showed good speed with his new Norths fruit and rounding the top mark for the run first the downwind specialist was never going to be headed, taking a nice win. Behind Stevo things were heating up with Colt, Gouch and Stech rounding the final leeward mark together, exchanging jabs up the last work and ending with Colt and Gouch dead-heated for 2nd with Stech a further length back (who in turn held Bushy out by a length followed by never-say-die Zacharias Mannering attacking Bushy’s rudder like a hungry Hawkes Bay dog).
Race 3 kicked off in a lovely 15 knot Northerly, Worser bay at its best! Bushy got a blinding start towards the leeward end and once again lead at the top mark - unfortunately for the biggest man in OK sailing, 15 knots wasn’t enough and he was quickly chopped up by Morrison, Mannering and (just before the wing mark) a charging Matthew Stechmann. The second reach turned more into a run and, with Mannering and Morrison careering off on a match-race, Stechy took the favoured low road, coming in hot to the bottom mark to snatch the lead just a length in front of Morrison and Mannering and with a nice buffer on the rest of the pack. The hunter now became the hunted, as Morrison used his speed nicely to power past Stechy and draw away from Mannering. With a decent break on Mannering who was now seeing Colt in the wing mirror, Stechy attacked down the run but Morrison held firm to take the win by a couple of lengths, while Zac was not so fortunate as the ruthless Colt slipped by to take 3rd.
The final heat of the day produced some outstanding racing. With the breeze now down to 12 knots and moving round a little, the real estate at the leeward end looked the hot property but devalued quicker than South Canterbury Finance when a shift to the right in the last minute saw the boats further up the line found themselves in lifting breeze and with more pressure to boot. Those who tacked out to the right made even more gains and at the top mark Colt snuck round first, having sailed a blinding first leg after falling out of his craft during his first tack! NZL531 with new commander Adrian Coulthard rounded second showing fantastic form up the first leg and Stechy and McDowell rounded out the top bunch. Down the reaches Colt used his awesome reaching skills to extend out to a comfortable lead while McDowell, Stech and Morrison jumped Commander Coulthard. The next beat saw the fleet scatter to all corners of the course as the breeze was now moving round plenty - the front 3 worked the left but nearing the top were joined by Gouch and Morrison who come piling in on a nice righty. Colt’s lead looked safe enough as he rounded with a small lead but then it was rush hour with Stechy, McDowell, Gouch and Morrison all rounding together. The surprise down the run was Gouch who hopped on a line of breeze and firstly knifed McDowell then rolled Stechy to climb to second, while Morrison got a case of the go-slows and dropped off the bunch to leave the other 3 to battle it out for the minors. At the bottom the Colt was still in front and sailed away to victory, while in the meantime Gouch, McDowell and Stechy went round together and even after a hard day’s yachting took to the final beat like a pack of hyenas battling for the scraps: Stech to the left, Gouch to the right and McDowell up the guts. As the boats converged on the line it couldn’t have been tighter. 50m out Stech ducked McDowell and then Gouch and tacked onto starboard for the last 2 minute grunt into the line, and with the legs burning Gouch hung on to take second by a couple of seconds, Stechy slipped McDowell by a second and Morrison charged up the last work to almost pip McDowell but ran out of time.
So at the end of the day McDowell and Colty were tied, with Gouch a further couple of points back and Morrison sniffing around the top bunch thanks mainly to his Race 3 victory.
After a tip-top day’s sailing everyone retired to the bar for a few “hard-earnts” and to dissect the racing. Star of this show was Stechy’s girl Meg, a seasoned sailor herself and having attended plenty of OK events she fronted up with not only content for the first rum bucket but also a ladle and chain to be attached to the mighty bucket so as to give it a little more class.
The evening meal was Thai, which everyone attended including the race committee and a great night was had by all. Meg shone once more when, the meals taking too long to be delivered, she charged into the kitchen and took over the show, delivering more meals than the paid staff!
Sunday dawned overcast and a little chilly, but everyone arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to scrap it out, and after a quick gather-round-the-tea-urn, everyone put to sea in a lovely 10-12 knot northerly that had more than a touch of east to it in the puffs. Race 5 got away first time and the fleet quickly split in two; one bunch headed left the other right. As the boats all started tacking back from their respective corners the left had paid handsomely and it was the old war horse Ade Mannering who lead at the top (having joined the battle that day after supervising Opti teams’ racing on Saturday), followed by his Napier compadre Rob Hengst and then McDowell, Mike “Oscar” Wilde, Gouch, Colty and Morrison in a bunch. Colt turned it on down the reaches to close in on Ade by the bottom with the others all piling into the bottom mark and somehow all coming out looking respectably lined up! Up the beat the flaws in Ade’s fitness programme suddenly became apparent and Colt pounced like the hungry little terrier that he is. Ade’s problems had just started as he now had Gouch, McDowell and Morrison doing their best impersonations of a bad rash, and they were soon all over him. Gouch once again showed a nice touch down the run to sneak by McDowell and get home in second while McDowell held off the fast finishing Morrison to round out the minor placings.
Race 6 turned on the best ding-dong battle of the contest. After a general recall the fleet got away and it was quickly apparent that 4 boats had made the jump straight away. Ade led once again at the top from Stechy, McDowell and Colt (Gouch and Morrison, consistent so far, had blown the first beat and were well deep). The front four managed to pull out a solid break from the rest and set to each other, having a massive old go for the entire remainder of the race, each taking the lead at different stages but being unable to shake free of the bunch. At the final weather rounding they lined up four abreast like an annoying bunch of cyclists on Tamaki Drive (but with a hell of a lot more talent and class!) and the test was on to see who had the goods down the run. Once again everyone had their turn in front but, again like a cycle race, the chasing group always pulled them back. With 50 metres to go to the bottom Stechy looked to have made just enough of a break but right on cue the others came in on a small line of breeze and once again they all rounded nose to tail: McDowell, Stechy, Colt then Ade. Up the final work Colt was first to throw, and Stechy went with him while McDowell scrambled up the centre and Ade went right. They all had their eye fixed on the favoured leeward end and all converged at once: McDowell managed to hang on for his second win of the contest, Ade on the back of doing one tack up the last work beat Colt by a second who in turn got Stechy by 5 seconds.
So going into the final heat anyone of 3 could win, McDowell and Colty just had to beat each other, while Gouch would need to beat both with a couple of boats in between.
Race 7 got underway first time and Ben Morrison, needing to do something special after having a shocker in the previous heat, made a perfect mid line start with great speed and shot out of the pack. Colty and McDowell were keeping an eye on each other up the windward end and Gouch had a less than ideal start having to tack off to the unfavoured righthand side, virtually ending his chances right there. Morrison on the back of his great start lead handily at the top from a melee of boats that included the 2 front runners; down the first reach Morrison had the nerve to stay low, followed by McDowell and Mannering, while Colty went high and was punished for it. Down the second reach McDowell unleashed some superb downhill pace to slide into a comfortable 2nd just behind Morrison, followed by Mannering and then some way back to the Colt. Up the next beat Morrison cruised along in front, while Mannering jumped McDowell who was watching Colts every move and maintaining a reasonably tight cover, and at the top with just a run and a work to go Morrison held a nice lead – but he was followed by three of the fastest downwind OK sailors in the world in Mannering, McDowell and Colt. All three regularly chase down huge leads off the wind and this race was by no means over. Two thirds of the way down the run Mannering got into contact with Morrison (followed closely by McDowell) and was soon neck-and-neck. With just 50m to go Morrison pulled something special out of the bag and got into a nice puff and a string of waves to just hold his lead with Mannering seemingly attached to his transom and McDowell right behind, just waiting for an opportunity. Colt had been unable to get close enough to challenge the front three and would now have to do something pretty damn miraculous up the final beat if he was to take McDowell and make sure of the championship. Meanwhile, McDowell needed a boat between himself and the Colt if he was to be the Hurricane champ for 2012. With a short beat to the finish, and a nice 15 knots blowing, Morrison put the hammer down and pulled away from Mannering and McDowell to take his second bullet of the series. Meanwhile , McDowell turned his attention to Mannering and a great final battle ensued – just 2m short of the line, with McDowell charging in on starboard, Mannering came in at full pace on port and went for a highly questionable lee-bow tack, far too close to McDowell and ultimately fluffing the tack to allow McDowell to roll by and take 2nd and the Hurricane Classic for 2012 by the slimmest of margins of 1 point over Colt. After another poor race Gouch had nonetheless done enough to hold onto bronze, while Morrison’s last race heroics lifted him to 4th by 1 point over Stechy.
All in all a fantastic event both on and off the water, sailed in true OK spirit with some of the most exciting racing seen in the class this season.
Back in the club, Colty’s better half, the lovely Bridget, laid on a BBQ for the lads which went down a treat, and a few beers and a bucket or two later Steve McDowell was crowned Hurricane Classic Champion for 2012.
Special thanks must go to Colty and Bridget for organising the event, including a couple of great nights out; Paul Davies and Katie Hakes for an awesome display of race management; Graham Joy for the use of Flying Circus as the committee boat, the Stanley lads and Sparkles for manning the rescue boats and all those others who made the event such a success. Thanks also to the Auckland and Napier sailors for making the long drive down.