The finish of the race into Airlie Beach was rather exciting – in a slow sort of way. The speed in which we flew up the east coast of Australia seemed to come to a screeching halt about three hours out. We were firmly in fifth place for several days, with Derry off of our port bow, and Unicef and Ichorcoal hot on our heels. The distances didn’t seem to change an awful lot – we were about five miles behind Derry and just over one mile ahead of the other two. With about sixty miles to go, it looked as though we had fifth place in the bag as long as we didn’t stuff up and let one of the other two behind catch up.
The scenery through the islands is beautiful – most of the 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays are completely uninhabited, but very green. Some are mountainous, some are flat. Some are tiny, some are bigger. During the afternoon of 9th January, we worked out that we should arrive into Airlie Beach early to late evening. Just in time for a beer! Derry took off, and we almost lost sight of them. They were closer to the islands than we were, and it looked like their wind was a little more favourable as they seemed to gradually increase their lead. We were increasing our lead on the other two, so all looked like it was going to end that way.
We were still flying the spinnaker on one heavyweight sheet – that had done us very well thankfully on this leg. The wind was due to change, so when we came on shift at 6pm we had to prepare to change to white sails (yankee and staysail). We had the yankee 2 already hanked on, but it is good for higher winds than we were expecting. Wendo suggested that we take that one down, and put the yankee 1 up, which is better for lighter winds. She seemed very apologetic – asking if we minded doing that. It was coming up for the end of the race, we seemed in a safe position, so it would be easy enough to leave things as they were. But we didn’t – we changed the sail and how glad were we that we did.
The sun went down fairly early – the beautiful islands that we were sailing through were now appearing only as darker mounds against a dark moonless night. Quite scary – there are a lot of them, as well as sand banks and coral reefs that could put pay to a very delightful afternoon’s sailing. Wendo is used to sailing these waters. She has raced many times up to Airlie Beach, so did not seem perturbed at all. We went off shift at 10pm, having slowed quite considerably. Not as much as Derry had slowed in front of us though. We can see on our AIS any boat that is within around 10 miles from us, and their heading information and speed. We could see that we were doing around 5 knots more than they were. There was then a good chance that we could catch them up.
One of our main primary winches had also stopped working part way through this leg. Michael had it stripped right down and found quite a lot of mashed up metal bits inside. He fixed it as best as he could – and in his words gave it a 48 hour guarantee. That was two days ago. We all hoped that the winch would hold out, as it would have been devastating if equipment failure let us down at this point in time. It did hold out – he had done an excellent job!
Michael decided to give Wendo a bag of chocolate covered coffee beans. Wendo doesn’t drink coffee – the caffeine in the coffee beans totally hot wired her. She was popping out of the nav station hatch and buzzing around like the Duracell bunny.
We were only a slightly different course to Derry, and were catching up by the minute. Wendo was on the AIS directing Craig on the helm of the exact co-ordinates to steer to, whilst David was on the bow calling the trim on the sails. We silently glided past them in the dead of the night – everybody whispering as if talking would slow us down. The wind then stopped almost completely. The windseeker went up, then came down, then went up again, then came down. David had a trick or two that he used with the sails to get a knot or two more out of them. That was the difference between fourth and fifth. We sailed around the headland – Wendo knew the route like the back of her hand, knew where the wind would be and would not be, and more importantly where the rocks would be. We didn’t want to do an “LMax”!
After what seemed like an interminable amount of hours getting to the finish line, we pipped Derry to the post. Or what is now termed as “being Danangoed”.
That is the second time we have overtaken someone on the home straight when it looked as if we had no chance. Wendo was over the moon – she did a couple of celebratory donuts after we finished. It may not have been the win that we experienced on the previous race, or even a podium finish, but just managing to get one place better than that we had resigned ourselves to made all the difference.
We docked at the marina at about 3am in the morning – we were greeted with wine and beer, and everyone was in the mood to party. It was 3am in the morning – I was ready for bed! I had a phone signal from about forty miles out, so had contacted Paul with the request to have a hotel room waiting for me on arrival. I had already changed my reservation to include an earlier arrival of 10th January – thank you Gareth from Inspired from Australasia, you always come up trumps. But this was the night of 9th – I did not want to sleep on a sweaty smelly boat any longer than I had to. Cheryl and Anita at Travel Stop played an absolute blinder with the night manager at the Coral Beach Resort, who had a room waiting for me when I pitched up at 4.30am. It wasn’t the penthouse that I had booked for the remaining nights of my stay, but it was a lovely cool room with a hot shower and a comfortable bed. I left the others on the pontoon – who apparently all went to bed in daylight much the worse for wear. I may have only had four hours sleep before I had to be back on deck for the deep clean – but that was the best four hours sleep I had had since leaving Hobart. You have to take it when you can get it!!
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