Spioenkop Dam Long-haul Catamaran race (3rd -4th December 2016)

img-20161205-wa0008-2This past weekend was the Spioenkop Long-haul. This is an annual sailing event held over the first weekend of December. Mike Wood, owner of Zorbetex (Ladysmith) is the main sponsor and organiser of the event. Mike is also a Hobie 16 sailor and member of the Spioenkop Boat Club. The club is situated within the Spioenkop Nature reserve, some 15 km north of Winterton, around 35km from Ladysmith and a 2.5 hour drive from Durban.

Members of the RNYC first really started supporting this event 3 years ago, after the introduction of both the Halcat and Dart catamaran fleets into the RNYC. We learnt of this event from fellow Halcat sailors from the Island Sailing Club,  whose members have long supported this event. So, it is now the 3rd year that we as RNYC members in a group have supported the event. From the outset, our  sailors having consistently produced good results in this particular event.

The hospitality is brilliant at Spioenkop Dam with the local farmers also getting involved. Friday evening is traditionally a curry and on the Saturday night the traditional “Sheep on the Spit”. Lunches are hamburgers made from home-made patties. Breakfasts consists of a “help yourself” fried eggs with bacon on a roll. Camping is around one of the many large and electrified lapas along the waterfront of the club. The usual practise is for all the members of a visiting club to occupy a lapa and camp all around it, establishing a communal home away from home. To this end, we sent Richard Potgieter ahead early to take occupation of a lapa in a prime position for the RNYC crowd.

The long-haul is traditionally sailed on the Saturday, starting after 10:00 and usually in a light breeze that will build into the afternoon. The race will normally take anything from 3 to 6 hours to sail with the start in front of the club and the turning mark set in the river canyon in the upper reaches of the dam. The course length is around 30km in total. Sailing up the river canyon  is challenging, with the wind bending, gusting with big changes of direction, as it deflects off the canyon walls. Also the sailors need to contend with dodging around partially submerged trees, at times, and shallows. Being in a Nature Reserve, you do see wildlife as you navigate up the river. However, the sailors are normally preoccupied with trying to out-sail fellow competitors,  so they don’t really get a chance to really appreciate the journey! A most welcome service during the race is that the Spioenkop club has members on power boats to follow the fleet around the course. When one is thirsty, you hail one of the powerboats and they deliver ice cold beer on demand!

This year, we started in better breeze than usual at 11:00, with the wind dying later into the afternoon with occasional thermal gusts of wind. Also, the wind came from the North-West instead of the East that is more typical. So this year, with this different wind direction, instead of starting on a run we started on a beat all the way up the dam and up the river, with us now sailing reaches and run on the way home.

Carl Zimmerman had a brilliant start and streaked out into the lead with Gavin/ Geetje Wadsworth and Neil/Linda Wadsworth in hot pursuit. However, with large wind shifts favouring different sides of the dam at times, many other boats came back into contention before the fleet started entering the river. It was at this time, Carl as leader, had no clue where to sail (apparently, appraising oneself of the layout of the dam and river was not a priority for him before the race?!) and Carl made a blunder, lost his way, which saw him let boats through. At this time the Darts were dominating the race. The Darts of Gavin Wadsworth, Neil Wadsworth, Andy Brown, Carl Zimmerman and Alan Barr entered the river swopping positions as they sailed up the river. I was a good 800m behind them on my Dart, hotly pursued by Mike Wood on his Hobie 16. Fortunately, I got away from the Hobie and closed on the Darts ahead, but at this time, Gavin and Geetje broke away from the rest of us and rounded the river mark with a good lead. By the time the other 5 Darts started rounding in close order, Gavin and Geetje increased their lead further and we never saw them again, except far ahead on the horizon! Gavin and Geetje went on to take line honours 14 minutes ahead of the next finisher. So, the race for second was between 5 Darts which ended in a good close finish for all. Andy Brown got as brilliant break just 100m before the finish and accelerated on a gust through the rest of us, to his absolute delight, to take second place. RNYC Darts took the top 5 positions on line and handicap overall, with Alan Barr of HMYC sailing  a Dart taking 6th  , with Bill Ellens’ taking 7th on the first Halcat in.

The sun was boiling hot during the race, so much so that Phil Downing and Hayley capsized on a thermal gust of wind in the river canyon, thereafter enjoying a swim of around 40 minutes before being able to right their boat with assistance. Gavin Wadsworth was exhausted from the heat as he finished, sailed ashore and jumped into my bakkie, where Sandy started it to get the air-conditioning on. The rest of us just went swimming in the dam as soon as we hit shore.

This was a most enjoyable event. We thank all those involved in making it thus.

The statistics are: RNYC had the biggest yacht club entry with 8 boats sailing of which 6 were Darts and 2 Halcats. A total of 19 boats entered made up of 9 Darts, 7 Halcats and 3 Hobie 16s. As the KZN Dart Representative, with much joy,  I congratulate the Dart sailors for showing why this is such an amazing boat to sail!

See results attached.

Rob Samways

KZN Dart Rep.

By Margie