Australia Day Marathon 2022 – Kurnell: Foiling Viper vs N17 vs F18

Australia Day marathon from Kurnell was epic. Perfect gentle North Easter, sunshine, bikinis on the beach, tunage pumping from the parties under the beach gazebos.The day started early and dusty after a long evening with sailing friends celebrating the return of larger than life Sophie Renouf to Sydney for a brief visit.

We cleansed our systems in the morning at Cook Kernell from the nights jugs of gin and tonic (they are a thing!) with a hearty breakfast and smoothies.The breeze arrived, the boats began to fill the parking and all of western Sydney arrived in loud cars accompanied by louder motorbikes that managed to drown out the landing aeroplanes. Kurnell is not a quiet place.Today was the long awaited day where we could put the Foiling Viper head to head with the all powerful Nacra 17 of Archie Gargett and the horde of fast F18s bunkered at Kurnell.

We had a lackluster start which required that we duck under and out from the F18 and Taipan ahead. If we are not foiling, we cannot hold a lane. Clear air finally and the Foiling Viper, jumped to its feet and sprinted away. The boats disappeared behind us as we scampered across the bay constantly looking for extra height, keeping the boat powered, balanced and flying.

First work upwind – The Viper scampering away from the chasing pack of F18s N17 and taipans

The first mark was hidden at a yacht club off a beach above the docks across the shipping lane. We had a bit of help from the little skiffs that had started 10 minutes before us as they worked their way toward the mystery mark. We kinda followed their line. As we drew closer we saw the laser sails on the beach, searched for the yellow buoy between the boats cruisers, jetskis, paddle boards and other camouflage.

We rounded with the skiffs well ahead of the rest of the fleet. Yes the Viper is a weapon upwind on foils…tick.

As we turned at the mark we saw the biggest container ship ever bumbling into Botany Bay right in the channel that we needed to go full send kite run across. The rules are: dont cross ahead of a ship, you will get fined, the wind will disappear and you may get run over. So, we literally had to stop. The entire fleet that we had burned off regrouped around us as we waited for the giant with its buzzing about pilot vessels to trudge past.

Green circle no. 1 in our track picture the first spear into our race effort.

The behemoth passed we pulled up the spinnaker, tweaked the rudder rake and literally just disappeared again. Well above 23 knots as we zipped downwind toward the Novatel. Neither of us knew what the Novatel looked like, or how far out the mark was. What we did know was we were going sooo fast. There was minimal traffic, the natural wind chop was no issue as the Foiling Viper chewed up the nautical miles like a Porsche on an autobahn.

Spinnakers are cool! – Fisherman are always on the layline. Note the Pilot boat ahead to the left that was leading the behemoth container ship onto the racetrack.

THERE IT IS! We figured this big white building with a sloping front must be it. Problem was we were clocking along about 30 degrees off course at 23+ knots. So we dropped the big red sail of happiness and engaged in that crazy point of sail the shy reach.

Two sails, two on wire – off the breeze. A slight air of tension surrounded Em and I as we took off after the kite drop and accelerated to about 22 knots. Without the spinnaker we were uncertain of how we would adjust to the gusts and prevent the dreaded twenty knot teabag – wash off the boat – team USA catapult moment. Turns out.. spinnakers on foiling boats are overrated.

We ripped along, Emma working the traveller and I on the mainsheet. The co-ordination settled in between us as we experienced a blissful rip toward the Novatel. Again the buoy remained invisible as we approached the shore. THERE IT IS! We had underlayed it so needed to go deep. We pulled the kite up, flopped about in the wind shadow of the airport, gybed, uderlayed again, gybed again and looked back to see a Nacra 17 barrelling down, two sail reaching high above the water, spray and steam jetting from the foils.

Eventually we rounded the mark, dropped the kite…again, as we had a leeward shore, and sped off toward our next target at “the baths” Again the Viper just absolutely fanged it and we pulled space. True tortoise and the hare stuff. The next mark was not camouflaged so we picked it early and rounded with the rest of the fleet getting smaller.

Around a green channel marker and down the throat of st Georges river. We were under kite and foiling but running slow and deep through the abundant jetskis, speedboats, yachts heading out along the same marathon course, wakes, chop, kayaks and all manner of what Botany Bay gets abused with on Australia day.

This is truly an amazing and thrilling little boat this convertible F16 Viper

The pass under the Captain Cook bridge was relatively easy as we watched a cruising cat 3 tack to get though the bridge against the tide and flukey winds. Hmm this was going to be tough on the return. Archie and Lilly Smith on the N17 chased us relentlessly and seemed to be closing as we were making our way through the chaos. The waterway became quiet and smooth after the bridge as we rounded a marina and headed to the next buoy. A little gusty in the bay as the breeze came over the land and dropped onto the finger of water that led the the buoy. A lot of sheeting and traveller work was needed to keep the viper foiling toward and back from the mark.

We passed Archie and Lilly with us foiling south, them foiling north. A loud wooooohoooo! from each boat. This was so good!The first F18 of Grant and Dave appeared as we rounded and approached the bridge. We had this in the bag we thought. We now actually knew where we were going, we knew we were blitz fast upwind, we had a huge lead margin…what could possibly go wrong?

Some years back when I thought golf was fun I three putted a two foot putt after my mate Willy bet me I was going to miss it. Getting the Viper through the bridge was worse!!! We sailed about in the tide, the wind came and went, barefoot servants too, we nearly capsized to windward narrowly missing the bridge pylon with the mast. When we finally made it out of the swirling stomach of St George’s river and bounced about over the chaos that was his throat. (Second green circle) The Nacra was omniously close behind.

The charging Nacra 17 caught up with every mistake we made

We tried to accelerate away on the foils and find patches of water that had not been ploughed up to just settle for a moment and gain some distance. We went back and forth foiling out over mountainous cruiser wash. Dropping off the foils as jetskis ramped wakes so close I could see the gold chains bouncing around the driver’s neck to the shrieks of their chubby passengers. As we finally started flying the confused water pushed, pulled and railed the boat all over the place. It turned into an exhausting struggle as we fought the boat to finally get vomited out of the turmoil.

Grant Maver’s F18 bulldozed its way through the spew and emerged ahead of Archie and Lilly’s N17. They saw us head into the south bay of Towra point in search of smooth water. We desperately chanced it into the shallow waters of the bay to settle and stop sheeting and rushing about. But it was the wrong way, as we emerged from the bay the F18 was on layline for the finish and hammering upwind.

Fast in smooth water again too little too late….

We tacked a little high on his line between the F18 and the N17, put the Viper on its foils and sprinted toward the line reeling in the F18 finally enjoying a normalised sea state. Sadly the damage was fatal, the finish came too soon. Grants F18 passed 10 meager seconds ahead across the finish to take the win with the Nacra 17 just 20 seconds behind us after an hour and a half of racing.

Lilly Smith having one of the best sailing experiences of her life with the very talented and proficient Archie Gargett

It was an excellent event, the Kurnell hospitality was its usual welcoming self, the race was exhilarating but exhasting in St Georges Throat on the foiler, the de-rig and load as usual was easy even though Emma and I were absolutely spent.

Results can be found here:

We recounted some hard lessons learnt as we slumped at the bar devouring pies and drinks. The disappointing loss of a number of big leads we built up. The essential composure required to keep looking out from the boat even when you are wrestling the little beast through Armageddon. To try different modes when one is not working – when the boat could not efficiently foil upwind through the chaos, we shouldda couldda wouldda just sailed H1.

A big thank you to Kurnell Catamaran Club, Archie Gargett and Lilly Smith for a great race on the N17. Well done Grant Maver and Dave Lee for pulling the win off and of course to the fearless Emma Rankin who always skippers like a champion.

Now we have some extra experience….French Island Marathon we should get a better result. See you all there.

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