Round Bowen Race 2023
by Tim Murphy, with crew Connie Leung and Paul Watson
Dirty Dog #282
Connie and Tim; Connie and Paul
I felt quite lucky to have the opportunity to drive Dirty Dog with excellent crew Connie Leung spinnaker trim and Paul Watson foredeck and tactics for the Round Bowen race as owner Matt Collingwood was out of town. At the start things seemed relatively normal despite a steady drizzle and 12 C temperatures; most crews looked like they were ready for the southern ocean and not sunshine.
Initially we had an inflow wind 5-7 knots and we're heading south and going clockwise around the island. For the start we kept a close watch on veterans Alan Strain (#209) and Michael Clements (#304). Consensus among them was to start near the shore and we followed them and made use of Michael's trick of sighting the line based on the onshore marker (not the orange inflatable that provided an offset to the shore). We also noticed a last minute spinnaker hoist about 2 minutes before the start by #304. Why on earth are they hoisting their spinnaker? Ah ha they anticipate a port tack hoist. We immediately copied Michael and did a quick hoist and repack ourselves. The start got off uneventfully-all clear and we set off up the Bowen shore and did about 10 tacks in and out of Bowen’s beautiful bays and headlands and kept a close watch for converging boats and bad air. With the inflow start and going upwind the first 2-3 miles were about avoiding collisions, maintaining clear air, and taking advantage of geographical shifts. The wind also had gone more to the east and we could see that boats starting out in the channel were looking really good Polar Bear and Ambergris. One observation was that when the wind flowed more on-shore (when it shifted east) and there was an on-shore slope it would lift off the water and be light near shore; an example of this was found at Dorman point just south of Snug Cove.
After beating upwind the shift to the east and the natural curve of the island meant that we would transition from upwind to spinnaker on port tack and we had Michael’s boat as a guinea pig in front for timing the first set. We had a nice spinnaker run jibing at Cape Roger Curtis and caught #304 and also closed on Polar Bear: for a few minutes we were leading. We had measurable wind until Bowen Bay and jibed out (and had to duck some big boats) fearing light winds in the lee of Mount Gardner as the wind was still south east (again following veteran Michael). At this point in the race things got really glacially slow as a huge hole developed and slower boats caught up and the race basically re-started with a smattering of 20-70 ft boats all within a few hundred meters. We marveled at the First 53 and it’s sails going up and down with electric winches and the red crew jackets on Il Moro IACC.
Il Moro IACC class boat - looking impressive (but finishing behind a 242!)
Ourselves, #304 and now Midnight (Monte #65) were all well off-shore and away from a developing land breeze that looked great (at first). It’s now clear we are likely going to be lower mid-fleet at best and they will sail away from us on the shore. However, the Bowen shore side boats had trouble once they got in the lee of the mount Gardner. We then saw a faint westerly filling from the direction of Keats Island and one by one the big boats that found this breeze were gone. In heading for the new breeze we are almost to Keats Island, so close we could hear people at a party onshore. Boats further in were slow to get the new breeze and only Ambergris successfully made it through the lee of the mountain towards the Hutt gap. We can see that #304 was positioned between the dying shore breeze and the Keats Island breeze and looked to be near last. We then decided to go inside of Hutt Island and positioned ourselves to avoid a hole that Ambergris has fallen into taking the lead. We have a tense 20 min or so of worrying about boats going outside of Hutt Island passing us, as well as the distinct possibility of hitting a rock at the Hutt Island gap due to lack of steerage (this has taken out at least two 242’s including a North American champion). The wind and tide gods let us emerge from the Hutt gap. We probably found a bit better wind and some current relief in the Hutt gap, but sailed further than the boats that were outside, next time check Navionics. We then had a hot starboard tack spinnaker reach to Finisterre Island (with no dreaded hole) and were set to beat back to Snug Cove in a relatively normal ~8 knot inflow.
As a testament to the opportunities in this race Michael Clements rounded Finisterre Island in second and went on to finish second (after being near last in the back side hole). Ambergris lost a bit in the Hutt gap and on the hot reach to Finisterre and was 3rd followed by Treachery in 4th and Salient in 5th. In the race there were significant chunks of time when Ambergris, Dirty Dog, Polar Bear, Treachery, and Too Wicked were all leaders. Sadly over ½ of the 242’s and other boats that did not finish within the time limit. One thing for sure is that the 242 is fast in light air (with respect to larger boats) and all crews enjoyed some boat for boat fun with 30-40 footers and several boats in the top ten overall!
1) Sight the line using on-shore and committee boat not the limit marker
2) Manage clear air and converging boats after the start
3) It’s a long race and there will be opportunities.
4) The wind and the tide will be different near shore, generally more breeze when the wind flows along the shore, look for back-eddies
5) Make a map of the island and different phases of the tides, position for back eddies near shore for relief as appropriate (rising tide will flow south to north on both sides)
6) Take lots of pictures and enjoy the scenery
7) Be sure to take your crew into Snug Cove for the after racing party regardless of your results!
Dirty Dog's track, annotated with conditions