A recipe for a fun weekend. Take 5 female skippers who sail off the beach boats, put them in a small keel boat and let them compete in the Commodores Challenge at Sandringham Yacht Club (SYC).
Now in its fourth year, Sandringham Yacht Club invites Commodores from nearby sailing clubs to enter a team to compete in this all female event. With one design fleet racing in Beneteau 7.5’s, and the notion that the Beneteaus are like big dinghies, a team from Black Rock decided to enter.
The Practice Day
SYC made the boats available for a practice sail the day before the competition and the Black Rock team took full advantage of this valuable opportunity. Leaving the harbour on an unusually warm, sunny autumn day in 5-8 knots of wind we thought a few quick tacks, gybes and some spinnaker work would be enough to get race ready for the following day.
Not so! It took a lot longer than anticipated, as whilst there are similarities between these boats and dinghies, there are also a lot of differences.
First of all, everything is so much bigger! Hoisting and setting a spinnaker can be likened to being a musician in an orchestra. Everyone one needs to not only play their part, but do so at the right time. After quite a few wrong notes, a criteria for success was accepted. Modelled on the weather forecast, getting it right most of the time, was probably OK.
There were 5 skippers on this boat who had sailed against each other but never sailed together as a team. A mutual respect for the sailing knowledge and skills within the group meant no one took the role of deciding for others their jobs. we had to work it out together, so took a bit longer than anticipated but meant everyone had invested in the success of the team.
By the end of practice day, the Black Rock team celebrated being much more clued into the boat at the end of the session than they had been at the start and everyone had a rough idea of what their jobs would be. Heather on helm, Pam on pole, halyards and jib, Morwena foredeck, Susannah jib and spinnaker, Jarka mainsheet and spinnaker.
The big race day started with an 8-10 knots and a few practice spinnaker hoists and gybes on the way to the start. By the end of race 2 several layers of clothing had been removed as the short windward courses were working up a sweat. This was starting to feel like hard work.
By race 4 the breeze had filled in to about 15+ knots and the layers were going back on. The main was reefed for race 5, the winch handle was getting a workout as were the crew members and the spinnaker was hoisted with some trepidation.
Over the course of the day only one wave came over the bow, but apart from this everyone stayed relatively dry. Quite a novelty for us in this kind of breeze.
We discovered that some mountain climbing skills were required to get to up to the windward side of the boat after a tack and that women are blessed with extra padding as we all slid onto our backsides at some point during the day. The racing was short and sharp with an “on-station flag” going up promptly after finishing the previous race. No time for lunch, lazing about, chatting or toilet stops. By the final race our hiking legs were fine but everything else was starting to ache and a greater admiration for the strength and stamina of female keel boat sailors was kindled.
Sandringham Yacht Club were excellent hosts and the format worked in a number of ways. By making boats available, it allowed females from both off the beach and keel boat clubs to compete and get to know each other. There was support with rigging and getting boats on and off the pontoons and of course some slick race management. The Beneteaus 7.5’s were ideal for this type of racing; one design, roomy cockpit, easy to handle and really like big dinghy. You don’t have to be a keel boat sailor to do well as both Brighton and Somers teams were crewed by off the beach women.
After 6 races the places were as follows:
1st Brighton Yacht Club
2nd Somers Yacht Club
3rd Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron
4th Sorrento Sailing and Couta boat club
5th Black Rock Yacht Club
6th Sandringham Yacht Club.
For now the Black Rock team are going to get back into dinghies to have a bit of rest but you never know, this taste of keel boat sailing may have sparked a thirst for more big spinnakers and winches.