SAFETY AND HANDICAPS
There are two pieces of paperwork that you need to complete before you set sail in the PIC Insurance Brokers Coastal Classic.
The Coastal is defined by Yachting NZ as a Category 3 event. This means you need to get a Cat 3 safety certificate issued by Yachting NZ. These require an insepction, cost $121 for club members and are valid for two years.
As the Coastal is a mixed fleet race, we use handicaps to calculate time based results. If you have a keelboat, you’ll need a PHRF handicap certificate from Yachting NZ, which costs $75 for a new application and is valid for a year. Multihulls can request a handicap from the NZMYC.
The Coastal Classic is 119 nautical miles long. It starts off Devonport Wharf in Auckland, and finishes off Russell Wharf in the Bay of Islands. Described as a drag race, it can be a sprint for the fastest boats who can finish in less than six hours, or a challenging marathon for the crew on boats that take more than 24 hours to reach Russell.
Stage 1: The Start
Grab the big breakfast at the RNZYS with the crew to set up well for the day. Then you need to get out in good time and report in to the start boat by VHF. The start line is a transit from the SE corner of the Devonport public wharf and the western bluff on Hobson Point across the harbour. A start boat is placed on the line approximately 1000 metres from Devonport wharf and race marks are used to separate the fleet. Most boats will start between the wharf and the start boat, but other divisions such as the Solo and Multihulls will start on the outer start line. It is important that you are not over at the start as there is a significant penalty incurred.
With such a large fleet in the start area you need to keep a very close eye out for other yachts but at the same time enjoying the spectacle of so many boats in that area lining up for the start. There are three start times, so check carefully which time you start.
You can expect there to be lots of spectator boats, many who will also accompany you up the first stages of the channel past Rangitoto.
The first decision is often whether to stay close to North Head or sail out wide after the start Also you often need to decide whether to put up a spinnaker in that first short section to North Head, which can make a difference, but does test the crew almost immediately, especially if its a strong south westerly. Take care at the start, but enjoy the sense of adventure ahead.
Stage 2: North Head to Kawau
As you sail up the Rangitoto Channel you will need to be considering whether you pass through the Tiri Passage or not. If you go on the outside, there are rocks close so these need to be carefully monitored. It is more or less a rum line either way, so that will be one of your first decisions. Make sure you have checked the tide times, its strong through the passage.
Once past Tiri Tiri Matangi you will then be thinking about how far you pass on the outside of Kawau. Many boats will choose a rum line course but others will try sailing further offshore to pick up a different breeze.
Stage 3: Kawau to Bream Head
This takes you across Bream Bay and is often the most exposed part of the course. It is important at this stage you are comfortable that the crew are all okay and that you are happy to continue on. You can often expect the windiest parts of the trip on this leg. Sail Rock is on the rum line. On this part of the course some thought may be given to sailing outside the Hen & Chickens. By now you will be considering the sort of angle you wish to approach Cape Brett later up the course. This will depend on your own performance and which sail angles suit your yacht the best. Depending on how long the race is taking it may be starting to get towards dark at this point, so special care needs to be taken to prepare the crew for night sailing. Safety at night becomes paramount.
Stage 4: Whangarei to Cape Brett
This stretch potentially takes you very close to some of the most scenic parts of the Northland coastland. It is important that you have identified the various headlands, islands and lights to look out for, including those at Tutakaka, Poor Knights and Cape Brett. Depending on the condition, decisions may need to be made as to whether to stay in close to the shore or to sail offshore to pick up a different breeze. Tutukaka is half way, so a good milestone up the course .It would have been important to listen carefully at the pre-race briefing for clues on the way to go. Make sure you have identified Elisabeth Reef and stay well clear.
Stage 5: Cape Brett
This is the major cape to round in the race. It is spectacular and always provides an interesting challenge as to the best way round the cape. Just off the cape is Percy Island and this can be passed either to port or starboard.
The approach to Cape Brett is often also interesting with the wind varying on both sides and also varying in close and out further. It can be very fluky in close and although there is plenty of water, particular care must be taken if going between Percy Island and Cape Brett. If it goes well, you can look famous, if not, then ou had bad luck! Many a crew has fallen into a dead wind trap at Brett with a south-westerly, and hard luck tales abound the bar.
Stage 6: Cape Brett to Tapeka Point
Once round the Cape, the last 20 miles into the finish can often be the most complex in terms of navigation. Most of the islands will be on your port as you sail in, so care needs to be taken to navigate clear of all rocks and the islands on the way in.
By this point in the race, some of the crew may be tired and it could be the early hours of the morning, so it is important to find ways to keep concentrating and get the best performance from your boat and the crew right to the end. This is a stage where you can make big losses or good gains, so stay alert!
Stage 7: Tapeka Point to the Finish
You are nearly there! This short final leg with the coastline to your port is the final couple of miles, often in lighter winds. Again many yachts have a last minute gain or loss by keeping a close eye on small gusts in the water. By now the crew will also be keen to be thinking of crossing the finishing line and what happens next.
Look out for the large strobe light on the large finish power boat. It is important to pass between a buoy moored just off the back of the finish boat and the outer distance buoy positioned between the start boat and Russell wharf. Have a torch ready to shine on your sail number and your boat name to make it easier for those on the finish line. Often many boats will finish in a very short space of time, which is both fun for the competitors but challenging for the finish boat.
Cross the Finish Line
You can expect a good horn and a cheer from the finish boat and it’s time to drop the sails. Often it is quite quiet and calm at this time, so you can quietly motor into Russell and find either a pre-arranged mooring or anchor somewhere safely and congratulate yourselves on having completed this challenging race. It’s then time to enjoy the post-race festivities as you like.
Remember your radio reporting times, to keep your tracker on, and to listen into the Coastguard Nowcasting service on your mobile of VHF for wind conditions being experienced at various places up the course, it might help making that critical sail change before your competitors do!