The Offshore Years
Author: Phil Yeomans Date Posted:18 November 2016
I really kicked off racing offshore on Casablanca, a one off 49’er designed and built by John Biddlecombe who I worked with at Performance Sailcraft Australia.
Biddles had been tinkering for a while about building an offshore boat and finally got in to it. The first race for her was the Montague Island race which started on the Friday of the October long weekend. It was a bit of a rush to finish off and we did a safety inspection on the way to the start! Due to a lack of hacksaw blades we were an unofficial entrant, so off we went turning right. As it was such a rush, one other thing that was forgotten – metho for the stove! It was funny watching George Mottl [he of the Mottle33s] filleting steak to cure in the sun. As it was my first major [aged 18] offshore, my parents made sure I had plenty of snack and muesli bars, I think they may have known. It was a great sail and we had a good battle with the original Apollo coming up the coast and in to the harbour to be pipped by a couple of minutes. Biddles was pretty happy.
Following my move from Pittwater to Middle Harbour, aside from sailing on Defiance with Robyn, there were many others that I sailed offshore. I did a couple of seasons sailing with Keith LeCompte on White Pointer, a Kaufmann IOR 1 tonner he had built himself. One tonners were all the go in the late 70s and into the 80s and competition was pretty fierce. Usually there was 10-12 on the startline and you knew it if a mistake was made. ‘Pointer’ was tiller driven in those days and downhill was the usual IOR wipeouts. It was great fun watching our sistership Priority learn to steer with a wheel when they converted from tiller – whoops there they go again, concentrate!
I can remember Hugh Treharne at MHYC one Friday afternoon looking for crew on ‘InchByWinch’ a Peterson 46’er that Dennis O’Neil had built for the Admirals Cup trials. ‘Can you sail to Bird Island tonight?’ ‘Yeah sure’, I went home and told Robyn and Hughie picked me up not long after. It was another learning experience and although I was really just weight on the rail, I tried helping where I could. When pointing things out forward, Hugh would say let him figure it out, he has to learn. No names here.
I’d started sailing on ‘Patsy’ a Swanson37 with Syd Yaffe on Wednesdays and Syd asked me to do Mooloolaba with him. With Fraser Johnston and Lawson Abbott running the boat, again we pushed hard. Off Smokey Cape, the southerly arrived and Lawson lost control around lunchtime in one massive wipeout. We had full main, 3/4oz kite and blooper up, I was below having just come off watch. The pole track on the front of the mast sheared off from about a meter up and went through the mainsail. All the sails had to come off and we set a headsail whilst we settled down, finally a second headsail was set and away we went with twin poles and no main. I stayed on deck while the rest of the crew sewed the main back together, utilising a harness between the reef points. The main was re hoisted later that evening off Ballina and was fine through to the finish. I had great fun surfing north by myself on deck that afternoon.
I had also started sailing on ‘Diamond Cutter’ a Davidson 1tonner owned by jeweller Alan Sweeney, built in New Zealand to the latest lightweight specifications, she was consistently a top performer. One race to Mooloolaba we had 9 crew who could all drive, 5 were top flight navigators. I was the second driver and as the youngest also the forward hand! As I mentioned earlier, the competition between the 1 tonners was pretty keen and the racing was close. DC was a great boat to steer and it was sad to see YouTube footage of her wrecked on the rocks in Victoria many years later.
Others I crewed on in that period included ‘Beyond Thunderdome’, a Davidson40 owned by Warren Johns and skippered by Jamie Wilmot who was my ‘Best Man’. Another was Salamander11, a Farr1104 sailed by the White family. We were off the Tweed heading to Southport with another 1104 ‘Hot Prospect’ sailed by Sir Robbo of Queensland tucked away to leeward. Ken White got off the rail and went below making all sorts of noise, Steve White was driving and I was on the main – ‘what are you doing down there?’ ‘Putting beer in the fridge so it’s cold at the finish!’ Priorities.. In another Salamander race to Coffs Harbour we also had my Dad aboard as navigator and another Ken incident bears repeating. We had pole on the forestay reaching in about 5 knots and White Pointer a boat length astern, Smithy on Pointer was asking if we had any milk as they had run out. Ken went below and rather than throwing it to them [outside assistance] poured it over the stern – ‘there you go!’.
In the early Eighties, Kevin Brightwell had gone up to a Noelex30 More Imagination, a Farr centre boarder and he decided to do the Pittwater to Coffs Race having done a few JOG races in her. A crew of 5, [Kevin, Tony Barnes, Roscoe Adams and Chris Thompson and I] all experienced sailors greeted the southerly at the start off Mackerel Beach. It was spinnaker with a starboard pole to Barrenjoey, two sail to Three Points, spinnaker starboard pole to Seal Rocks, through the rocks and up again, Down for a short time around Tacking Point and back up to the finish. Well nearly the entire race on one gybe. We had to gybe to go into Coffs Harbour for a couple of hundred metres and naturally wrapped it. Chris tried getting it out and I said wrap it up tighter. With a quizzed look from the foredeck – ‘we’ve finished!’ Roscoe shinnied up and pulled the pin on the halyard. Done, good race that one, totally enjoyable and quick, under 30hours for a 30’er.
The Farr Out years
In 1983 Dibs [John Dibble] decided that as his family was expanding, he needed a larger boat as the family grew. A Farr1104 Farr Out was the choice once Defiance was sold. Jaime and I continued the Two Handed racing of the time racing against the likes of Salamander11 and Thirlmere both Farr1104s.
One of the first day offshore races on Farr Out was a day race to Pittwater. We were short of a forward hand and Robyn was it. A nice southerly of 10-15knots so an easy day. There was however an issue, she was still breast feeding our second daughter Jillian at the time. No issue – Jill did her first offshore race!
Once settled down with Farr Out and we were pretty happy with the setups, we decided to do a Bird Island race. Jaime was on the helm at the start and before we got to Bradleys head in the NorEaster, the mast was over the side. Bugger, quick race that one, all of a couple of hundred metres.
The new mast was stepped in time for the next Mooloolaba Race, Hugh Treharne had made a new mainsail and Steve Keily helped with the rigging. Steve was also aboard for the race and I can remember him literally adjusting the rig every time we tacked until he was happy. It was great to have a sail with him as I’d always competed against him till then, he’s sorely missed. Off Smokey Cape in a good NorEaster, Dibs was on the helm and we coped a bad sea and he fell across the cockpit cracking a few ribs. We managed to get him below, but we were headed to Coffs as a withdrawal due to his pain. Steve, Dibs and I were on the plane home and the rest of the crew brought Farr Out back to Middle Harbour.
Dibs always wanted to do a Hobart on his own boat, so a good crew was put together. This time however I wasn’t involved. The ’84 was a bash to windward and Roscoe Adams tells one story, whilst below having a sleep on the sails on the floor with Dibs on the settee to windward. Dibs fell to leeward when Farr Out went over a wave and landed on top of Ross. He made himself comfortable thinking this is nice and then Ross reminded him, ‘can you get off me John?’. Unfortunately the conditions took their toll and a DNF was the result.
Into the early 90s and after a foray into a string of powerboats, Dibs decided to get back in to sailing again. I hunted around for a while and Robyn and I finally found a Pawtucket35 at Pittwater, Indulgence. The first sail back to the harbour was in a NorEaster, lovely days sail but the usual new boat hassles meant a re think on the layout was required. I’ve forgotten how many winches we pulled off in favour of a bank of clutches, but it was quite a few. The final layout favoured shorter crew numbers, perfect for family sailing and weekends away.
As was the norm at the time, a race to Coffs at Christmas was on the cards. Bret Scott made a new #2 headsail as the conditions dictated it would get a lot of use. It was the perfect sail for the blast reaching at the start with a honking westerly, unfortunately it couldn’t go down the forward hatch, had to be bagged and dragged aft to go below. Race was finished inside 40hrs, so another good one.
Next up was Mooloolaba. The start was light and unfortunately we missed the wind gate and ended up with a couple of others well behind the main fleet. It wasn’t to be a small boat race, we ended pulling the pin at Coffs when most were finishing. I think we spent most of the day around Seal Rocks wallowing and watching the rest move away. For the return to Middle Harbour, there was just the four of us, Magoo [John’s longtime navigator]and his partner Robyn and for this one, my next door neighbour Paul Wilson. Due to the calm conditions, we taught Paul how to steer to the compass and away he went, thrilled with the experience of his first offshore trip. At breakfast the following morning with Paul alone on deck whilst the rest of us had a clean-up and rest, Paul posed the question ‘What time do the Dolphins come?’ “About 0900″. Silly question, silly answer. They turned up at 0915 with a delighted Paul on deck enjoying the dolphins on the bow wave. My response to his whoops of joy? ” Bugger, they’re late!”. We all dined out on that one for a few years.
The following season was another Coffs, but what was more memorable was the couple of weeks Robyn and I with the girls spent aboard at Pittwater after the return trip. It was the year 1993 that West Head went up in smoke and we spent quite some time watching the emergency services tackling the fires. The smell after was too much down below, so whilst Robyn and Melissa drove home in the car, Jillian [aged 10] and I brought the boat back to Sydney. It was another nice sail down the coast, just the two of us.
I did another two handed race around the harbour, this time on Indulgence with Daniel Yaffe, son of Syd from the Patsy days. Highlight was being able to set both the spinnaker and blooper down Middle Harbour to the finish. Melissa was with the other junior sailors and one made the comment, ‘look at the boat with two spinnakers up’. ‘Ahh, that’s just Dad!’. Big rush to get both down before the bridge.
I got a call from one of Melissa’s Animus girls, Tiffany. Tiff wanted to know if I could do Southport on Next a Sydney38 with her, ‘who else is on?’ ‘Yeah ok’. This was a time when there was a fleet of S38s racing offshore so it was good competition from the start. I worked out not long before we got out the heads that I had to do a fair bit of tactics and driving after getting caught on port early. Nice call Jason. There were some long sessions on the helm with the longest from before Byron to after Tweed Heads in a NorEaster, short tacking up the beach out of the set. I got off the helm stuffed, some of the crew wanted me back on as the speed had dropped, but I couldn’t. Hard one that one.
In late 2005 I got a call, ‘would you do Hobart as helm and tactician?’. ‘Why not?’. After plenty of right hand turns, I was yet to cross Bass Strait and David and Andrea McKay had one goal – finish. The first 24hrs was pretty quiet, just working away south. The second night was a ripper NorEaster and we made good ground surfing a 49′ steel cruising boat in the high teens. Coming to the Strait we were near a Cole43 with one of my old A10 foes, Martin aboard, we made the choice to go right into the westerly for a while and they headed east. That night was another good downhill, however the next morning saw me sewing up the luff tape on the spinnaker, tacking our way towards Tasman Light. We rounded in company with 5 others at lunchtime and before the Iron Pot at the entrance to the Derwent River, a test of my handy work was made. ‘You fixed it Phil, you trim it!’ . It held all the way to the finish – relief. We finished before sunset and my mate Martin? He finished at 1430 the following afternoon. Won that one.
My last offshore was with the late Nigel Holman on his Sydney39 Cuckoos Nest. This was to be the time when he found out that he was crook and spent some time in a bunk. The start was a good southerly and we blew out two spinnakers before Pittwater, Nigel said we couldn’t set the mast head, so poled out heady it was. I hit the top speed for the day with a 20, everyone else couldn’t quite get there. It was another race with the breeze going north as we went north. I’d sailed with Nigel on nearly all of his Cuckoos over the years and he’s sorely missed both out on the water and back at the bar with a rum.
Cuckoos Nest surfing out of Sydney Harbour heading north.
Needless to say, there’s plenty of other stories from the Eighties and Nineties when I did the majority of my offshore sailing. I enjoy being offshore on a good day and there’s been plenty of them.