Ocean voyage whets appetite
Porirua’s Jono Francis recently lived out a Boy’s Own-type adventure by sailing on a refurbished Steinlager 2 from Auckland to Fiji. This is his story.
From a young age I aspired to be like Peter Blake, Grant Dalton and our other sailors who took on the challenge of circumnavigating the world.
Now aged 18, I’m taking the first steps in making my dream a reality.
Earlier this year I saw an exciting sailing opportunity made possible by the New Zealand Sailing Trust. It was offering to take a youth crew aboard Steinlager 2 for the 50th Auckland to Fiji ocean race.
Once I was selected as a crew member the buildup began.
We completed a qualifying journey and our Advanced Sea Survival course over a long weekend on the Hauraki Gulf.
The course involved an early morning swim in our wet-weather gear practising the operation and righting of a life raft.
It also covered a range of survival techniques, from firefighting to distress signals.
During the weekend we also ran the boat as if we were in race mode, with watch rotations and optimum sailing for best performance.
From our training site off Kawau Island we circumnavigated Great Barrier Island (overnight), sailed down the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula and on to Waiheke Island for the third night.
As part of the buildup we also competed in a Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron rum race.
Finally it was Saturday, June 6 – race day.
We gathered at the Auckland Viaduct at 8.30am for Customs clearance, final packing/ organisation and a briefing. TV One recorded our departure and I was interviewed by Martin Tasker. It was included on the sports news that evening – 30 seconds of fame talking about the possibility of seasickness!
At 11am we began our 1200-nautical mile adventure.
With 24 crew, we looked quite special on the start line, dressed in our red Steinlager jerseys.
At 1pm the starting gun went.
Twenty boats jostled for position on the line, surrounded by hundreds of spectator boats.
It felt like I was part of a huge offshore race – very exciting.
The difference in yachting technology was soon obvious with Beau Geste and Giacomo rocketing away.
It was incredible to compare Steinlager and Giacomo – both Whitbread/Volvo boats built for the same purpose, but 20 years apart. It really showed how sailing had advanced.
The 10 to15-knot northerly made for perfect conditions as we passed Rangitoto Light, Whangaparoa and the Poor Knights.
The next three days consisted of up- wind slogging, with winds ranging from 10 to 45 knots, and our boat speed never dropping below 8.5 knots.
Seasickness reared its ugly head, affecting most of the crew.
I suffered from it, but was not bed-ridden and seemed to impress my watch captain when at 2am I was throwing up while grinding.
My grinding partner, Steve, was not so impressed!
Alistair Moore, the skipper, insisted that all crew experience all aspects of offshore sailing. That meant that though my preferred position is bowman, I also had the chance to grind, helm, and contribute to the running of the vessel.
On our standby watch we cooked and cleaned, stowed and maintained gear, and monitored the wellbeing of the crew and the vessel.
Cooking for 24 on a single gimble stove, pounding into large seas, was a challenge, but everyone seemed to get some form of hot meal.
By the fourth day, the wind had dropped and the lead we had built up over the first three rough days all but disappeared as the lighter TP 52s thrived in the lighter winds.
Unfortunately we found ourselves too far west of the rhumb line, praying for a westerly shift that never came.
In 72 hours we drifted just under 100 nautical miles, with a maximum boat speed of five knots.
That calm patch, though boring from a sailing perspective, was made interesting for other reasons – we saw an albatross, skewers, flying fish, mahi-mahi, dolphins and even had a whale visit us.
On day 5, and still a few hundred miles from Fiji, a tough decision was made.
With damage sustained in the heavy weather, the continuing calm weather, and the business and school commitments of the boat and crew, the call was made to turn on the motor and get to Fiji to ensure the boat was returned to Auckland in time to fulfill its other engagements.
This had benefits in allowing me to have two days in Fiji and meet other sailors, have a look around the other boats and form sailing contacts.
My first experience of ocean racing was fantastic.
The opportunity the New Zealand Sailing Trust gave me and the other three youth crew was an important step in expanding our sailing careers.
I am hooked on offshore racing and hope there are many more adventures to come.
Currently I am sailing on Blink (Shaw 40) in Wellington as principal bowman, and in the two- handed series on Erazer (Elliot 780) with Chris Hargreaves.
Next summer I will continue my laser radial sailing.
My next two major offshore races are the Coastal Classic and the Central Triangle.
Open water: Steinlager 2 heading for the open sea.