53rd Keepit Kool regatta – the sinking of the Bismarck

Australia is awesome, a road trip through the coal and wine country of the Hunter Valley, past the insanely big open pit mines of Singleton with a stop for lunch and a chat with the old ducks in Muswellbrook. Hot pumpkin soup and rissoles, the two old girls assured me everything on the menu was delicious and right they were. Perfect to warm up a traveller on a chilly Friday before the long weekend.

The double stacked Vipers jiggled along cheerily behind the Ute as I passed through beautiful Scone where the mountains drew closer to the road. Ah! The sign to Barrington tops – I just gotta go there someday soon.  The final run through gorgeous Murrurundi led to the pass up and out of the Hunter valley to Willow Tree where the landscape changed drastically from the green valleys and hills to brown dry plains bordered by low more rugged mountains. As I passed the bustling cafes and shops in Willow Tree I spotted Brett Whites Nacra Carbon 20.  Standing tall at a dizzy 45 degree angle on its trailer behind an enormous Ute that made the gargantuan catamaran look in proportion again. The line honours vacuuming “Bismarck” of Keepit cool had been spotted.

There was no time to waste as I screeched the Vipers to a stop just ahead of the monster Nacra and Ute to launch the first attack on the menacing beast lying unattended. A flick up of the windscreen wipers, bend back of the wing mirrors and my skirmish was done. I scampered back to the Vipers and made haste out of Willow Tree laughing loudly as I imagined Brett arriving back to the Bismarck to see its escort reeling and ruffled by the swift first blow the special ops Vipers had landed. He would be bewildered as to where and who this attack had come from. Mwaahaha! I laughed as the Vipers rolled across the Breeza Plain with their Red victorious Gs shining in the afternoon sun.

The arrival at the lake was as always great with a reunion of regatta friends, hearty Covid shirking handshakes and loud guffaws as I told of the first Viper strike against the mighty Bismarck of Keepit Kool. The lake was beautiful in the dusk light, filled to the brim, clean water, green grassy bank and breeze disturbing the surface… perfection

Legend has it that Admiral Brett von White and the menacing black sail shod Bismarck has never been beaten over the line at Keepit Kool. Was this to be our year to strike down the dominant Medowie Missile.

In the battle were the F18s of JamEm and Adrian “paint job” Foster. Mark Vandersteen launched the Coca Cola Tornado. Then there was the Viper special forces of Captain Nick Reader (Ruel Rigging), Angus Musgrove, Rob Saunders (who actually is military) and the old dog and veteran of Bismarck battles Beau White.

Special ops Team Vipers

As we readied the Vipers for the great annual battle the Bismarck slid menacingly into view. The Ute with wiper blades reset and wing mirrors outstretched paraded around the boat park and then drew to a stop in close quarters firing distance from the Viper special forces pit. This was going to be a naval slugfest of the highest order.

Boats now rigged, we headed off to the Gunnedah hotel for dinner with some of the fleet and discussed plans for the coming morning assault. Sabotage was not ruled out, McLubed trampolines, sex dolls in spin chutes etc. nothing was off the table. Forecast was checked, cross checked and confirmed a number of times. 12-18 knots it was looking good.

Gunnedah either has an enormous crime problem with fuel theft or there’s a disproportionate paranoia about +9:00pm shenanigans. Low on fuel and in need of snacks we combed the town till we found the only fuel station still open after 9:00pm and filled up. No snacks as the shop was closed and we tapped the payment though bulletproof glass…..tough town Gunnedah!

The “Rotunda” camp kitchen when we returned to the campsite was booming behind its closed roller doors. We rolled up the door and were assaulted by a loud, festive and very merry crowd of sailors hanging out around a rather lackluster fire. The building was filled with some of the drunkest folks I have seen in years. Hilarious, some were definitely not going to make tomorrow’s 1:00 start. Buckets in tents was probably going to be a good idea. The music played on, the usual complaints and security guard vain attempts to quieten down the revelers happened as we laughed, chatted, wobbled and mucked about till late.

Dawn broke a very cold night and the breeze sucked our body heat straight though the stitches in our multiple layers of clothes. Brekky pancakes were served on the tailgate of the Ute with the sun streaming in from across the now breezy lake. The forecast had held and this was to be a barn burner of a race day.

More boat park smack talking continued after breakfast, we threw jibes at Herr Brett von White armouring up up the 20ft Worrell 1000 Bismarck Nacra Carbon 20 mit das sailen unt spinnakeren. Eine Kleine fraulein arrived as crew…….lightweight and agile. The Viper fleet stiffened at the prospect of holding off and chasing down the mighty slayer of Keepit line honours hopes.

Mark Vandersteen’s Coca Cola Tornado – the joy of sailing a fast boat

This was going to be tough. More boats arrived, trailer sailors, a fleet of Puffin Pacers from the Bay Sailing Center, heaps of sports boats, lasers, super fast looking international canoe jobbies with sliding outrigger things, shitter old monohulls that would serve as great stationary obstacles as the Bismarck would try to escape our swarming fleet, older trimarans and the piece d’ resistance – Shane and Kimberly Russell’s bright Red Trimaran. Made with a Center Nacra 5.8 hull and Cobra hulls as floats, it had a trapeze and looked to be a weapon.

But more on the bright red tri later. A foiling A class kicked off his cowboy boots and threw his cowboy hat into the ring. But a spinnakerless foiler on a inland lake is a soft target and mere fodder for the mighty Bismarck and yardstick wielding Maricats. Over 90 boats would be out on the magnificent lake Keepit in just a few hours – awesome

Briefing was the usual affair with most sailors having not read the sailing instructions, relatively vague confirmations to some questions and in an overexcited rabble we all headed down from the clubhouse to our boats, armed with the fact it was a five minute start and triangle courses. Not sure how the course number would be displayed, or the division or the start sequence or the colour of the bouys. But who cares, it’s a celebration of sailing and was going to be awesome in the good breeze and Sunshine with our brothers in arms, albeit a bit chilly.

First race start was even more confused than the briefing with sailors now realising they did not know the division sequence, the flag being display and everyone passed each other shouting instructions, questions and wwaahaat? The chilly breeze whipped the words awayans the were drowned out by the hulls turbulence through the water. The distant start line mark was spotted by Nick Reader. He ripped the first salvo into the fleet as he crossed everyone on Port by a mile.

Thats how you do a port start! Even when the line is half a mile long

Gus and I hounded Herr Brett as he steamed full speed ahead in the Bismarck. We held him on the work and fought bravely after rounding the “not the top mark” to keep him in firing range. Nick kept up a barrage of suppression but the big battleship rolled over us and away around the “ not the wing mark”. The Vipers noted the error at the wing mark and changed course to the correct wing mark and rounded that. We chased hard again to re-engage the unstoppable Bismarck as it steamed ahead leaving a wake of wrecked line honours dreams behind it.

The more pedestrian Weta was clearly more prepared  for the battle and as they brought up the rear they plodded along past the “not the to mark” out of the meelee ahead and headed toward the real top mark located just off the shoreline. A few other multihulls noted the pathfinder Weta and disengaged the Bismarck to follow on the Trail that would define the battle and ultimately the outcome of the war.

The navigation pro – well he did have time on his hands

The Bismarck rolled triumphantly across the finish line followed by yours truly who still did not know the course and could not think straight through the red mist of the massive engagement against the Bismarck while dodging the other 89 boats on course. We waited ages for the stragglers to come in and then we were informed by the survivors that we had been mortally damaged and that we had navigated like fools and sailed the wrong course. 

Yeah – Nah following those things is probably an indication you going to the wrong top mark. Nice tack though big guy!

Race 2 was an entirely different affair. The guns of war fired, the white division 1 flag dropped, the course board showed “1”. The two vipers of Sir Nick Reader and Wingman Beau White charged off the pin end to engage the Bismarck that steamed along on starboard. Forbes on the vintage Hobie 18 was badgering the mighty Nacra 20 as Angus left safe harbour a bit late and ended up weaving through the Starboard armada on Port. Marine Rob Saunders scampered through the Starboard Armada but was unable to get within range of the thundering Bismarck. JamEm we’re running close support for Forbes and boss Adrian held solid formation on the Nacra Infusion. 

The Viper Duo had first strike and rounded the real top mark 1-2. They were now Isolated on the reach which was perilously close to the windward shore. Power malfunctioned as the breeze swirled off the trees along the shore. The mighty Bismarck shook off the first hits and loaded up the big red spinnaker and unleashed a barrage of speed on the now fleeing duo.

Fooled you once – fooled ya twice you can tack but the damage was done! another cracker port start by Sir Nick

Sir Reader was sunk by the wing mark and the rest of the fleet disengaged. It was now a dogfight between the Bismarck and the Buffalo rigged Viper of wingman Beau White.  The Viper held the lead again to the top mark, the Bismarck again pressed its advantage across the reach and a gybing duel emerged at the wing mark. The Bismarck was firing wildly at the more manoeuvrable Viper and Beau cut inside the wing mark and covered the charging beast bristling with its carbon mast and marquee sized red spinnaker.

The Herr Brett and der fraulein were unable to land a killer blow before the bottom mark and victory was now a windward leeward leg away. The Bismarck drew alongside and fired everything she had, Herr Brett shot a wry smile as the Bismarck passed below the gasping Viper. Wingman White worked all the guns and tried to get more out of the buffalo rig to mount a counter attack at the top mark. Her fraulien was a rookie and maybe a faster kite hoist could be the silver bullet to bring the Bismarck to heel. The top mark loomed, the Bismarck brought the spinnaker gun to bear, the Viper loaded and fired at the top mark and then gybed away from the windward shore to reload and get another shot in at the bottom mark.

Achtung Achtung! Herr Brett unt Fraulein on the Bismarck.

But a glorious spinnaker run ensued and with the lone skipper on the wire, kite sheet in hand, buffalo rig powering the beautiful Brett Goodall sculptured hulls through the sparkling flat water. The fog of war lifted. The gusts accelerated the boat, the windward hull flew through the winter air and life stood still as I took in the lake, the mountains, the clear sky and gave thanks for just being alive and in paradise.

I was shaken from my trance as I saw a big dark gust of happiness coming and I realised I was so far passed the bottom mark I had to return to the fray. I gybed , got on the wire and barreled at full noise toward the charging Bismarck. Herr Brett had the bottom mark on radar lock and was going in for the kill shot. The gust came and I veered further off course, the Viper was ripping along but the Buffalo rig would not let it come up to bear on the bottom mark. I dropped traveller, lowered my trapeze line but it was lost. The last hope of a victory crushed as the Bismarck rounded the bottom mark, dropped the kite and slid pompously toward the Blue Whale (committee boat). I dropped the kite, knew I was sunk and limped around that final mark looking back to see how my fellow shipmates had fared.

Er She Blows!!!!The Blue Whale!

That was day 1, we nearly had him, nearly.

The conditions after the race had gone from excellent to outstanding. Firm westerly breeze continued, the water was board flat and I reformed with Angus to run some training manoeuvres. We sailed up and down that section of the lake till the sun started disappearing over the mountains. Angus main spinnaker cannon malfunctioned and that was the signal from the gods that we had officially gorged ourselves on sailing euphoria. Vipers are awesome, wait no, sailing is awesome and some days are just perfect especially on the perfect boat. Laughing and hollering as we duelled up and down the lake on trapeze flying over the flat water in the clear winter breeze. The sounds, the views, the sensations.

Gussie and Beau rippin around testing the Buffalo rig – can ya spot the diffference

Back at base we frothed about the day in a Irish way with some Guinnes and a wee dram o whiskey to warm our souls as the light faded and the clouds tinged red.

Eh the wee leprechauns are comin’

Eventually we climbed out of our wet battle dress and headed to the club for roasted dinner and the nights R&R which would be yabbie racing. Now in years gone past this has been novel but somewhat monotonous with half dead bait clinging to life on a wooden floor to the delight of the onlookers. This year, all Irished up and with the yabbies looking more like heavyweight prize fighters and not bait prawns, the racing was an exciting affair. The diesel jet blast heater pumped warmth into the basement, folks were on barrels and shouting excitedly as the first yabbies made their appearance. They were HUGE! They wrestled with each other and looked ready to slug it out, much like our brave mariners had earlier in the day against the Bismarck.

The Yabbies were Bigger I swear!

Even though I am generally adverse to gambling I became swept up in the moment. I threw down cash, rewarded with a win I headed off to the bar upstairs to get more red wine. I lost it all by the final and the old saying of wine and gambling being the ruin of men rang true. It was terribly good fun, very novel and well run. Kudos to Lake Keepit Sailing club.

Full Moon over Keepit – new cameras are amazing!

With the wine and little Irish leprechauns tickling our brain cells it was clear we had been light on the soakage before the Irish arrived and dinner was too little too late. We headed back to ye ole Rotunda and it was Groundhog Day around the luke warm fire in the camp kitchen. Difference this time was that we were a part of the very plastered contingent.

Sunday dawned, the leprechauns had beaten my brain to a pulp and the red wine poured on the wounds hurt like a motherfkr. Who knows if it was all that cold last night or the booze. I drank water and ultimately succumbed to my wounds and went for the pain killers. Bleary eyed we wolfed down a wholesome club brekky and rigged through the haze of the night before.

The breeze was great again and we headed out arriving at the start a little behind schedule. My balance was off, the swirling boats were all over, the anticipation of the coming battle and first engagement of the day had sailors going excitedly in a million directions. The stationing area of the start zone was pinned close to the leeward shoreline and it was a bit crowded. We appeared to be in sequence and while fumbling for my watch and trying to get my pulverised brain to work out the button sequence I looked up to see a big red trimaran barreling up the start line straight toward my idling Viper. I shouted and desperately went hard to port and tried to veer away to dive under the charging red pickle fork. 

The big red tri that I failed to spot – how do you not see something this big and this red?

Too little too late again and we had a head on collision. There’s that statistic that 40%of military casualties are not as a result of fighting. Well I just got taken out by friendly fire whilst being incapacitated by leprechauns. 

The blast of the start gun signalled the start of the battle as I headed back to the medic tent. Spinnaker pole dangling off dyneema lines, I headed with the fleet of maricats to the top mark. Oh how the mighty fall fast. Back at base I dunked around in the swirling malfunctions of my brain to try fit a new kite pole. It was not going to happen. Marine Rob came in after the race with a dodgy traveller. With our comrades in a dire position on the water we abandoned my disabled Viper and headed back to the front on his jerry rigged Viper. Maybe double handed we could help disarm the unstoppable Bismarck.

We were too heavy and no match for the fleet, after rounding the top mark ahead of the monster the last remaining functioning brain cells in my head forgot the triangle course and gybed  away to ensure we went from forward in the spin fleet to sweep and rear guard…Du-uuuh. From there it was just a case of trying to stop the bleed as the Bismarck romped away for the prize with the rest of the fleet desperately trying to catch it and engage a tacking duel.

Morning races, lunch and an afternoon race up the river. This is the way civilised conflicts are conducted. A tasty soup to warm up with a sandwich to revive the spirit and it was tally ho. Let’s go sink the Bismarck boys and girls!!

My Buffalo Rigged viper now had a spin pole again and was ready to throw everything it had at the omnipotent 20ft behemoth. A downwind start began the charge. Never ever tell me that a Bangin’ the corners race does not teach you stuff. The lighter destroyer class Vipers and Hobie 18 of Forbes focused on the bottom mark target. It was all or nothing, kites flapped on the tight reach, kite boats bore away violently to prevent capsizes in the bullets coming off the windward shore. The Bismarck was slow to engage and hunted the pack from behind. We once again held the advantage early with JamEm’s F18 at our heel Sir Nick and I rounded 1-2 and set course for the long reach to a destination at a buoy somewhere up the river.

The Bismarck in full battle dress towers above the fleet – this thing is HUGE and FAST

The usual course confusion set in as the sailing instructions were not read – but who cares. Onward to victory! Once more to the breach! Bismarck sank Gussie, overwhelmed Marks Tornado and scythed through the vintage fleet. It was down to the main force now of Sir Nick, JamEm and Wingman White to stop Herr Brett on his quest for a complete line honours sweep of the regatta. (ok less the first race where he went around the laser course)

The forecast tomorrow was zero breeze so this was it, the final battle and we were engaged and firing.

JamEm lured the Bismarck toward the dam wall as we approached the hole that had settled over the area between the dam and the river. Sir Nick and Wingman White in a tactical dash outflanked the Bismarck and headed toward the fingers of breeze on the right of the hole. 

Wingman White caught a finger of breeze in the Buffalo Rig and fired a disabling and telling blow right down the stack of Herr Brett’s becalmed monster of destruction.  The Viper came up to speed and the next shell exploded in the Bismarck, another gust, bit of traveller down again, set mast rotation -Fire! A burst of speed, spray off the Vipers hulls as the Nacra lulled about under the sustained shelling. Adjust Traveller and main sheet to get all the tell tales flowing  – Fire! Keep the hull flying through the lull- Fire! The wounded giant slowly caught a zephyr to save it from complete annihilation. I was the King George and Sir Nick the Rodney. We had the beast on the ropes and we pressed our advantage.

I found the turn mark, much sooner than expected and spun around 180 degrees to launch a head on attack at the chasing beast. A few salvos were exchanged on the pass as I wound up the viper to full noise through the gusts. Admiral Von Brettenstein shouted something and I cockily replied “catch me if you can M@#&^%$r F%^$^r” . The pursuing fleet past by quickly as I worked the controls to lay down more power shots on the beast. Across the hole I glided again and onward toward the club, roasting along with flames coming out my ass.

The battle had been so fast, so furious that the finish buoy was still being laid as the Viper came charging in. Spray off the bow, skipper grinning his face off, the buffalo rig pulling like a locomotive. V is for Victory and V is for Viper!!!! That sweet sound of the finish gun saluting a well fought battle, I shall always remember that hooter sound as the day we sank the Bismarck. 

On returning from the battle men bought me drinks, women threw flowers and young maidens tossed underwear. No actually not, the infighting started over the spoils of war. Sir Nick covered JamEm’s F18 to the finish snagging him a third, JamEm locked in a solid fourth and Mark Vandersteen brought the Tornado in for 5th. All within seconds of each other.

The Spoils! 3,4,5 in the River race

Now enough speak of war because once again Keepit was turning on the charm. Breeze was steady, water flat, Vipers rigged and at the ready. The special ops team of marine Rob, Gus, Sir Nick and Wingman White went for a victory lap that lasted till dusk. Another epic afternoon on the these fantastic boats. I say that with confidence. We swapped crews and Rob, the rookie of the outfit remarked how amazed he was at how hard we can push these spinnaker boats. Wait till you see how insanely you can drive an F18 Akurra. Exhausted, elated, proud, we returned to the shore and community on the bank this time staying far away from the fighting Irish.

Best boats eva!

Dont pull funny faces – they stick when the wind changes. Rob still wearing his Spinnaker run expression

Sunday night was club dinner again – fish n chips – delicious with a sticky date pudding. Then on to Trivia. The mulsch in my head and punch bag of a liver was no match for the much anticipated trivia night so we left it to the other teams to compete for glory. Reports are it was the loosest trivia night ever. Questions were varied and consisted of varied topics.. for example: how many speed bumps to the gate? The judges decisions were final and accuracy was not a prerequisite. Much fun was had at the club as I slept snug in my tent expelling the last of the IRA that had infiltrated and bombed my brain and liver the night before.

After a frosty night we awoke to a misty lake, a fading thermal breeze and a hearty club brekky. 

Last bit of puff at Keepit on Monday morning

We were on station for the final assault when the breeze died and a perfect warm windless winter day emerged in regional Australia. If only we had waterskis

The pack-up began in the special ops Viper squad. Sir Nick was to be torpedoed by the first race navigational snafoo and the 27 point penalty lost him the catamaran overall Victory to the F18 of JamEm.  Consolation lay in the fact we had scored an over the line victory as a team effort, no handicap. We left tired, satisfied and with our chests puffed out. 

But it does not end there – I took the victorious Viper to Hunter Warbirds museum in Scone on the return trip. Here I saw the most beautiful aeroplanes dating back from the First World War through to the second world war era Curtis P40, Mustang and Harvards. All except the Jets,  MIG and Mirage are real flying planes, their dripped in oil pans under the engines a testament to their latest rumble through the sky.

It certainly is a must see if you are ever in the area and probably what gave me the concept around this piece..

Well done beautiful Lake Keepit Sailing Club, Australia is truly a special people and place. There’s few ways better to experience you than with a race catamaran and a few hours to spare along the way.

Till next year.

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