BUNBURY AND RETURN RACE: A RACE FOR SECOND

This year’s 170-mile Bunbury and Return Race on the west coast of Australia turned out to be a race for second after the TP52 CRUSH lived up to its name and set a new course record. This year was the 75thrunning of the race that goes from Fremantle, south along the coast of WA to Bunbury and then back to Fremantle.

At the weather briefing, it was clear it was going to be a fast race for a TP52. The forecast 24 hours before the race was for a 16-knot southeasterly at the start putting the wind close to on-the-nose. The, the wind was forecast to move through to the south by 1100 and then shifting to WSW. The westerly shift was to be accompanied by winds building to 25knots by about 1700 down the coast with a swing back to the southeast around 2100 and dropping. It was clear that the TP 52 might one-tack the leg to Bunbury and then head home under spinnaker in 25 knots of wind. If that were to be the case, the record was likely to be broken and the race for the rest of the fleet would be for second place on the podium. That would require  all the speed and smarts teams could muster.

Bunbury and Return Race course map
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Sirene first around

The JPK 45 SIRENE getting ready to hoist after rounding the first mark first.

The “rest of the fleet” (excluding CRUSH that is) being slower, sailed in totally different winds. Here is a story about the rest of the fleet. 

While the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club’s Bunbury race is not the longest offshore race in Western Australia, it is the oldest and holds a special place on the State’s ocean racing calendar. UK Sailmakers Fremantle’s Geoff Bishop was on the race and here’s his report:

“On the morning of the race, we saw a lighter ESE of 8 knots breeze for the 0900 start, which was still forecast to swing through the south until settling into a SW direction. CHECKMATE, my King 40, had a great start and we rounded the first mark (a mile to windward) in second, just behind Bill Henson’s JPK 45 SIRENE. The two fastest boats, CRUSH and the Fast 40 SECRET WEAPON, didn’t pass SIRENE and CHECKMATE until later, both had been OCS and had to restart. After the first mark, it was a spinnaker run to the windmills east of Rottnest Island and then a full beat down the coast to Bunbury. At the windmills CRUSH was first followed by SIRENE, the J/122 LITHIUM, CHECKMATE, SECRET WEAPON and ALFRESCO were all very close in a pack. Everyone rounded and went hard on the wind. Aboard CHECKMATE, we expected the wind to swing through to the SW and build, so we took a few sterns and headed out to sea. We sailed slightly lower and faster as we sailed to the expected shift.

When the shift came, the breeze built to 12 knots, the TP 52 was up to weather and a long way ahead—she was gone. The Fast 40, however, was very close but the rest of the fleet had fallen in behind as we were all headed. As the wind continued to build, CHECKMATE tack-changed to the Code 2 Jib. We were now on the favored tack to the mark, but the mark was still more than 80 miles down the track. 

The wind kept building throughout the day and by 1500, we were sailing with Code 3 Jib and had progressed well down the coast. When we were off Cape Bouvard, the wind had built to 25 knots. SIRENE was to leeward and the Fast 40 was within sight and slightly out to sea. We reefed the main and started talking tactics as we made our way through the Bouvard reef system. It was then that we decided we had the sea room to go fast and low and head straight at Bunbury. We wanted to get as far south as quickly as possible before the wind started to shift back to the south and then southeast. 

At about 1900, as the sun was going down, we could hear over the radio that the TP 52 was rounding the mark in Bunbury and heading back to Fremantle in 25 knots of wind. Yes, luck went to the swift and they managed to get there with one tack. CHECKMATE and SIRENE, however, came into the coast about 20 nm from the turning mark and were now short tacking down the coast waiting for the SE wind shift. SIRENE hit the beach first and tacked out and crossed us about a boat length ahead. As we got closer to the beach, the wind swung east of south and when we tacked out, we crossed about half a mile ahead. From then on, we protected the left.

After many tacks and the wind’s greater swing through to the southeast, the breeze began to die as we entered Bunbury Harbour. We rounded the mid-course mark in third place (behind CRUSH and SECRET WEAPON) with a full main and Code 2 jib. After rounding in 16 knots, we hoisted the A4 and headed out to sea hoping to pick up more breeze. At the same time, CRUSH was off Garden Island about 12 nm from the finish, they were clearly going to win the race and set a new course record.

We knew that the Fast 40 had rounded the Bunbury mark about half an hour ahead of us, and the next three boats behind us owed us time. It became clear that we had a shot at second place in IRC if we could just have to hold onto the bigger and faster boats on the way home. We weren’t confident, however, in our ability to hang onto a Fast 40.

There was more wind further out to sea. By now, we were running away from the coast in about 19 knots of wind which had shifted more east. SIRENE and ALFRESCO where gaining quickly. We peeled to the A5 and sailed closer towards the next mark. SIRENE passed just far enough away that we couldn’t pick up a tow – buggar!

By sunrise, we were somewhere between Mandurah and Garden Island, sailing under jib top in 15 knots with gusts up to 19 knots. SIRENE and ALFRESCO where to leeward and we were looking good. As we got closer to the turning mark, which was about 12nm away, the wind lightened, and we peeled to the Code 0. The two boats to leeward had a better angle and rounded the mark about one mile ahead. The Fast 40 had rounded about 2 hours in front, which meant we would beat them. The tracker showed that the J/122 was at least 13 nm back, with a dying breeze, we felt good as we rounded the last mark before the finish.

We crossed the finish line at 0936, 24 hours and 26 minutes after the start. As expected, the TP 52 did smash the record; the new record is now 16 hours 26 minutes. Well done CRUSH! CHECKMATE corrected to second overall in IRC with Bill Henson’s JPK 45 SIRENE, another UK Sailmaker client, finishing third overall. Trading positions with Bill’s team made it a great race.” The Fast 40 SECREAT WEAPON corrected to fourth, ALFRESCO was fifth and the J/122 LITHIUM was sixth.  

After the race, Geoff said the “go fast” take aways that led to their top result were: 

  1. Knowing when to go low and fast (sail towards the shift) 
  2. Changing gears (sail trim and sail changes) at the right times
  3. Great team concentration. We started our watches at 1700 and kept to them all night. As a result, everyone had enough rest to push hard to the finish.
Geoff Bishop
Geoff Bishop

Geoff Bishop is the Managing Director at UK Sailmakers Fremantle in Western Australia. Geoff also races his King 40, CHECKMATE in the Western Australia region, known for it's competitive and active sailing community.

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