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.

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

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.

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