Coastal Classic in a 49er skiff

Since New Year, Peter Burling (18) and Blair Tuke (20) have had the idea of sailing the Coastal Classic Auckland to Russell race on Labour Weekend in their 49er skiff.
Peter and Blair have been sailing the 49er together for over 12 months aiming for the 2012 Olympics. The 49er is a high performance skiff with the focus being on speed rather than endurance. 

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke doing it tough on their 49er skiff.

The two sailors are on trapeze wires with only their feet touching the edge of the boat, constantly adjusting to keep the boat balanced and upright. Because of the sheer physical nature of the 49er, normal race duration is 25-35 minutes with a longer recovery break scheduled if more than two races are to be sailed in a day. The Coastal Classic on the other hand is about 119 nautical miles (220km long) – if sailed on the shortest possible route, which of course yachts can’t do. The actual distance sailed was probably closer to 260-270km; a huge challenge for the 49er sailors.
The 49er could not officially enter the race due to safety criteria and would have to have its own support/safety boat along the way – i.e. both boys’ dads in a powerboat with drinks, food, and rescue equipment if needed (plus a lot of spare petrol).
It was all only going to be possible in an off-shore south-westerly – an easterly swell would make it too rough. As parents we struggled a bit with the age-old question, “Why?” – The answer, “Because it is there,” resonated with something Ed Hillary had once said and they had our support.
With the forecast of an ideal south-westerly, plans sprung into action – EPIRB (personal locator beacon) rented from Bay Marine, spare gear borrowed (thanks Bob Smyth and Peter Dallimore), the final decision was due to be made on Friday morning.  

Friday morning, forecast 25 knots south-westerly dropping to 15 later in the day. Lifejackets were loaded with EPIRB, flares and VHF. The 49ers Auckland base at Akarana Yacht Club was ideal to leave the beach at the last minute (didn’t want to waste energy before the start) and they started with the first group off Devonport Wharf. Their speed puck registered a top speed of 20.8 knots as they headed out of Auckland Harbour with their gennaker up, in the lead bunch through the confused wash of the spectator fleet.
Their first capsize was approaching Tiritiri channel – a lot of energy needed to get the gennaker down and the boat upright and sailing again.
The support team (dads) were kept busy keeping up, mixing and passing sports drinks and food onto the boat and picking up the discarded empties. By 11.30am after the second capsize, they were nearly past Kawau Island with about eight boats in front and making good time. At 1.30pm they passed Hen Island, visible to the shore team (mums) who were paralleling the sailors up the coast, with the trailers on top of each other.
After a long haul in strong winds (20-25 knots) across Bream Bay, Peter and Blair sailed into the lee of the Whangarei heads for a five minute break to fix the fitting holding their halyards up. This break turned into 20 minutes as it was difficult to get out into the wind again – frustrating at the time, but this enforced rest was probably beneficial as the day went on.  
Tutukaka was reached at about 3.30pm. This was always going to be decision point, the last easy place to get the boats out. The support boat stopped to transfer petrol out of the tote tanks while the boys were going well. They sailed through a “work-up” of birds with birds passing between their sails – pretty amazing. By 5.00pm they were at Cape Brett, the second monohull behind the record-breaking 100 foot Alfa Romeo. A freak gust off the cliffs caused another capsize (their 4th and last) and the strong current (three knots) and fluky winds around Piercy Island (Hole in the Rock) caused a further delay – allowing the 50 footer Ran Tan to get past.
From there it was a long slog tacking upwind into the Bay of Islands. The next two 50 footers – Georgia and Wired – had better VMG upwind and passed the 49er. Peter and Blair rounded Tapeka Point to arrive in Russell at 7.30pm, with the sun just about to set. It was great to hear the cheers from the crew of Alfa Romeo who had finished nearly three hours earlier breaking the previous course record. The Alfa Romeo crew (including yachting legends Joey Allan and Mike Quilter) were among those congratulating the boys on the beach.
After just over nine hours, four capsizes, a few bruises and blisters, sore hips from being compressed by their trapeze harness – two very tired, but happy sailors of the 200 entrants finished 5th monohull with a few multihulls also ahead of them. 

By Heather and Richard Burling


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