Jeremy Wallace in Clumsy Ninjas, a Melges 24 with a 99 rating (fifth overall), had ghosted up the Bowen shore after the start in a westerly zephyr and probable back-eddy, or at least slacker current, along with 8-10 other boats 200 yards or so behind, such as Marhenurh IV, a J-36 owned by Peter Wealick (twelfth overall), and once they all hit the initial stronger westerly pulse, they were gone. However, the westerly receded again for about 20 minutes and a major dead transition zone developed that was about ¾’s of a mile wide and ¼ mile deep, with occasional northerly puffs. Wicked deliberately positioned itself about 300 yards offshore to get the next main westerly thrust, which could be seen coming down Howe Sound, and once they hooked into it they left the majority of the fleet behind. A large cluster of boats had gone hard against the Bowen shore hoping for the westerly to fill in again there first, and they got hammered when it filled in offshore instead.
On the remainder of the first beat to the south, it became apparent that just like many prior years the Bowen shore was paying off. This was partly due to stronger wind but also because of a slight back eddy current flowing south in a 200-yard wide band towards Cowan Point, coupled with a progressive geographic lift on starboard amounting to about 30 or more degrees by the end. Once Cowan Point was reached, Wicked made an error in terms of tacking immediately toward the south side of Bowen, and walked right into a mild east-flowing back eddy at the Point. In hindsight it would have been better to follow the lead of a few other big boats that had launched 300-400 yards out into the strait in the southerly back eddy current, before finally tacking onto port and heading west. After losing about 100 yards to nearby boats at Cowan, Wicked went offshore about 250 yards to get out of the easterly back eddy, and then hit the shore about a ¼ mile later for better current, more wind, but primarily for the south side geographic shift, which was a continuation of the one on the east side.
The rest of the race up to Roger Curtis, site of a second minor wind transition zone, was just tack after tack up the beach (probably 40 on this leg alone out of 75 for the race as a whole), getting as close to shore as possible in order to maximize the effects of the persistent geographic wind shift that occurred as Wicked progressed west along the island. The starboard lift ended up being 60 degrees or more than it was at Cowan Point by the time Wicked got to Roger Curtis.
After ghosting around Roger Curtis at two knots about 20 feet away from it, Wicked hooked into the westerly flow down Collingwood Channel, which strengthened very slowly as they progressed under a tight spinnaker reach down the channel. Once past the north point of Bowen Bay, Wicked gibed constantly down the west and north shores of Bowen to maximize wind strength and current, but to also play the geographic wind shift that saw the wind bend around the Island by as much as 60 degrees at some points. Probably 60 gibes occurred during the race in total, including those on the first leg. Wicked’s pace boats that were ahead of it during this period were Kevin Courirer’s 72-foot America’s Cup Class Il Moro that rates 0, and Voila, a Laser 28 owned by Frank Fletcher that rates 141 (third overall).
After blowing through the Hutt Island gap under spinnaker at a fast clip, it was a relief to see the wind attach itself to the north side of Bowen almost half-way to Hood Point, before it finally petered out due to the light southerly coming down Howe Sound. Based on what Wicked saw ahead of it (many boats had gone wide of a straight line to Hood Point and struggled to beat up to it in the very light wind against the flood), the crew decided to drop the chute and aim about 100 yards north of Hood Point and drift towards it in the one knot easterly current, aided by occasional puffs of air from various directions. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.
It was at this moment that Wicked’s team decided that beer was in order because nothing more could be done to improve the situation, and after a few cold ones were quaffed, lo and behold: a lovely 200-yard-wide carpet of breeze from the south came rolling around the tip of Finisterre Island. You just can’t plan these things in major transition zones like Hood/Finisterre, but you can certainly position yourself to be ready for them if they do appear, as is the case in a number of Round Bowen’s. After hooking into the carpet, Wicked left most of the fleet well astern, quickly passing Il Moro, which had gotten stuck against Hood Point, and, unable to tack, had to very slowly gibe 360 degrees around to starboard to get away from it. So up Howe Sound Wicked went, close on the heels of Voila and others.
Normally it pays to short-tack up the beach towards the finish because of stronger wind and lighter current or back eddies, but after a few tacks inshore it became obvious that better breeze existed offshore, coupled with the fact that slack tide was only 20 minutes away, so the flood was clearly on the wane. Wicked was the only boat that punched out as far as it did offshore before taking a very long port tack all the way to the finish line, gaining several minutes on the big boats ahead, some of which were visibly less than pleased to see a little boat rocketing up towards them at the finish.
In closing, Wicked’s crew was pleasantly surprised to have won the Overall trophy again, and it was nice to share the experience with many other Martin 242 sailors who also placed well. Wicked looks forward to competing in the event again next year, when the conditions will almost certainly be different (once again).