This article was written by our member, Murray McCutcheon of Matador.

The forecasts for the last Midweek Mariners and Doctors of Northcote/Overnewton race was for a windless Wednesday 20th July 2022.  Everyone said so and muttered, “Why are we bothering to go to our boats?”.  Only the unexpected sunshine after a frosty morning was able to tease the reluctant away from their forecast screens and onto the water.  Yours truly was a little more optimistic. Surely the persistence of the winter sunshine would gently warm a lazy landmass more than an even colder Port Phillip, to create a breath of air.  And lo – it came to pass!

There was joy, excitement and confidence in the race tower with the answer to the race officer’s prayers.  An appropriate course was set, and the spinnaker-less and spinnaker-some, set off with enthusiasm into a lovely light southerly breeze on a beautiful blue sea and sky.

The Matador crew were pleased with themselves in managing to pass a few boats by the first windward mark, and hoisting their little red spinnaker. The big one had died of old age immediately after finishing a recent of Brass Monkeys race.  The drop was not our best.   The spinnaker collapsed prematurely. It had to be dragged from the water in the midst of a jib set, mark rounding, claiming of buoy room on Tigris, while in hot pursuit of Mrs Overnewton.

Matador arrived at the top mark first and quickly discovered two things.  Not only was the wind close to its last gasp, but a wet spinnaker will attempt to drop to the sea floor and not fill with anything but water in such a light breeze.

A gentle and polite expression of regret for not hoisting the spinnaker on the mast head halyard wafted across the boat. Smiffy (Steve Smith- he of the 4 wheeled drive and chainsaw, just back from not being crew for what seems like months), directed the dropping of the spinnaker on deck and connecting it to the masthead halyard.  The greater height dried the sail and allowed it to fill almost until the very last breath of the day.

After the final top mark, Matador had gone right on an aggressive angle to find breeze where the warm land was closest to the cool water, Tigris went left on an aggressive angle to where it thought there was more wind and tide, and the White Sails fleet led by Arcadia appeared to head the shortest distance straight down the middle to D mark and William Paterson, which was now the shortened finish line.

History now records that Arcadia crossed the finish line a very clear first in spite of being the last boat to start in both fleets.  PJ of Arcadia attributes part of this outcome to the half knot of incoming tide helping push Arcadia towards the finish line. He had been contemplating retiring until he realized that Arcadia’s time to finish over the ground against speed through the water would see Arcadia finish well within the time limit.

History also recorded that Matador limped over the line first of the spinnaker boats by just 45 seconds ahead of Tigris, and in spite of stuffing a covering gybe when the spinnaker caught on a spreader just before the finish.


Murray’s Lessons from the Day

  1. Lose weight. Light boats usually like light weather.  Matador and Tigris are light boats and were the only 2 spinnaker boats which are recorded as finishing.
  2. However, “light is fastest” is not a universal truth. Some quite heavy boats can do well in light weather if they can get going and then keep going.  There is nothing like inertia if you can keep it.
  3. Tigris went left at the top mark and probably gained from the tidal influence, and perhaps more breeze, but may have ended up with a softer breeze and perhaps an adverse tidal flow, just toward the finish. Tigris certainly gained ground on Matador on the downwind leg. However, in the end it all comes down to judgement and good luck and it was a very close finish in the longest race for a long time.
  4. Both Tigris and Matador sailed at aggressive downwind angles. At times Matador was almost sailing away from the mark in order to keep the boat moving.  In my view, in drifting conditions, this is better than sitting stationary.
  5. It seemed that some boats were trying to point too close to the breeze in very light conditions and then stalling.
  6. Avoid head on waves in very light conditions, especially those from shipping or motor boats.
  7. It is not true that some of the crew were in the cabin peddling or hand cranking the engine in order to get to the finish line.

It was a great sail.


Murray McCutcheon

Skipper of Matador S8640