Home » Sailing » Cape2Rio: Scarlet Runner’s Rob Date shares the highs and lows of his race

Cape2Rio: Scarlet Runner’s Rob Date shares the highs and lows of his race

Australia's Scarlet Runner team celebrating finally arriving safely across the finish line in the Cape Town to Rio Race. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

Australia’s Scarlet Runner team celebrating finally arriving safely across the finish line in the Cape Town to Rio Race. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

The Australian crew on the 52 footer, Scarlet Runner, have safely finished the Cape Town to Rio Race, crossing the line in second and hopefully holding onto second place in IRC Division 1.

It took them 14 days, 19 hours, one minute and 53 seconds to cover the 3,300 mile course which was equivalent to just over five Sydney Hobart races.

Representing Melbourne’s Sandringham Yacht Club, the team members were Rob Date (skipper), navigator Jessica Sweeney and the crew of Brett Averay, Rowan Leaper, Tim Kenner, David Snoad, Ben Howland, Damian Knightsbridge and Charlie Hawes.

They battled a severe storm at the start of the race, loneliness in the middle and almost no wind right at the end. Family, friends and race officials anxiously followed their track on the Xtra-Track system with no live data to confirm their well-being. The loss of use of the Sat Phone on the first day out stopped the team from communicating their day to day Blog. But once ashore in Rio and with little sleep and no clean clothes due to the boat’s container being held up in Customs, Rob Date was still full of good spirit about the race.

Here he shares his comments on the race, the boat and his outstanding crew.

Tracey Johnstone
In the 24 hours before the race start you spoke of expecting rough conditions to begin with. Was the weather as bad as you expected ?

Rob Date
It was pretty much the same. We had done our weather calcs and we were expecting something in the range of 40 knots for about 12 to 24 hours. We saw as high as 50 knots. Yes, it was pretty much as we expected.

Johnstone
What damage did you experience in that storm ?

Date
One of our crew men, Charlie Hawes, fell over and broke one of our steering wheels right off. We also blew out our A3 spinnaker and we blew out our staysail. All of that happened on the Sunday or Monday. We suffered some fairly serious damage to our jib-top reaching headsail, but we managed to repair that onboard.

An innovative repair job on the starboard wheel of Scarlet Runner. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

An innovative repair job on the starboard wheel of Scarlet Runner. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

We eventually dropped the mainsail totally and we were sailing on our J4 jib doing between 28 and 33 knots. The waves were worse than the wind. They were big and from many directions at any one time. We had to make a decision to slow the boat down because we were catching the waves and surfing down them, but they were short enough that we were ploughing into the next wave and stopping the boat. We were putting too much stress on the boat. We had to make a decision to slow the boat down to get it travelling more the speed of the waves as opposed as to the speed of that the boat could perform at.

We dropped the main to slow the boat, but didn’t achieve that. We considered dropping the headsail and going under no sails at all for a while just to try and slow the boat down. We were unable to steer through the waves without really stressing the boat.

The boat would be travelling up the back of a wave at maybe 14 or 15 knots and then down the face of the wave at 28 to 33 knots. The waves were so short we were ploughing into the wave in front and bury the bow two or three metres under the wave in front and stop the boat.

The waves subsided a bit and we managed not to have to do that (go bare poles).

I don’t know where we lost our communications. We lost our satellite phone. It happened some time on the second day. As the weather improved we dissembled, but we couldn’t work what was wrong with it.

Our HF radio, that was odd. We couldn’t communicate with Cape Town and yet at different times we could communicate with Durban and with Europe once. So we had no communication at all with Cape Town.

Johnstone
Did your time racing in Bass Strait help you at all in coping with the conditions that you were in the first few days ?

Date
Of course. The weather was not dissimilar to the bottom end of a Sydney Hobart, towards Eden, when you get the south-westerly wind coming straight into the oncoming current. What happens off Eden is the East Australia current running down the coast at two or three knots and the wind is coming from the opposite direction so the waves stand up. So it wasn’t dissimilar to that sort of wave condition. The difference was we were running with the wind whereas in Bass Strait we would have the wind in our faces.

I don’t think that at any time we were concerned. It was very unfortunate to break the wheel. A wave over the bow washed a crewman over the deck and his body went through the wheel. He got carried down the boat on the end of his tether.

We know the procedures. We were strapped on all the time. We didn’t come out of the hatch unless we were hooked on.

We lost our Jon Buoy over the side. It worked beautifully; it erected itself in 10 seconds or so and floated off into the distance, which was pretty funny. Once the weather calmed down we used some broken battens and some tape and twine and the Jon Buoy stand to rebuild the steering wheel.

The Scarlet Runner team prepared a message-in-a-bottle as they tried to communicate with the race office. (Credit Scarlet Runner)

The Scarlet Runner team prepared a message-in-a-bottle as they tried to communicate with the race office. (Credit Scarlet Runner)

Johnstone
Are you in any strife with the race management over your radio problems or have they accepted your explanation ?

Date
They haven’t had a hearing yet, but we have put in an application to be exempt from the penalties. My understanding is that, according to them, we will be allowed that exemption.

We made efforts. We kept a log of all the processes we went through. We sent digital text messages via our HF radio, but they were never acknowledged.

I think they understand that we made every possible effort to maintain communications. We even put a message in a bottle and throwing it over the side. When it got light we sent one of the crew to the top of the mast and he sent off a paper plane.

Johnstone
Back on the race track, did you see any wildlife ?

Date
We saw flying fish. We had a bird try and land on the deck at one stage and we had an albatross try to land on top of the mast.  In the last 25 miles we saw three or four whales. Before that we really saw nothing at all.

We didn’t see any aeroplanes at all and we saw one boat, a Dutch sole sailor in his boat called Beaufort 13, who was heading for Cape Town.

Johnstone
Did you food supply hold out ?

Date
Yes. We started out by having three meals a day. That lasted about five days then we switched to two meals a day which were freeze dried. We got very sick of beef and pasta hot-pot.

We had to ration our muesli bars and then at the end we had so many muesli bars left we sat down and ate I think about four each in a row.

We had plenty of food and still have food left.

Johnstone
What is the state of boat now ?

Date
The boat has come out of the race pretty well. The wheels are the biggest problem. The second (port) wheel has a crack in it as well from someone swinging on that. So I have already contacted Australia to get two new wheels.

We’re getting quotes from McConahy Boats and from the original boat builder Composite Constructions.

We are just a bit short of communications stuff as the container which has all our gear in it hasn’t arrived as yet from Cape Town. I think it is held up in Customs. So we have no clothes. We have had to wash the clothes we had on board and put them back on again.

Johnstone
The last five hundred miles or so the breeze disappeared on you. How did you feel at that time and how did you keep focused ?

Finally, Scarlet Runner reaches Rio and the Cape2Rio 2014 finish line. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

Finally, Scarlet Runner reaches Rio and the Cape2Rio 2014 finish line. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

Date
We actually broke watches up. We thought we were going to be in so we decided to not do watches anymore and be a bit random. Then we had to go back into our watch system because it was dragging out too long. Everyone got a bit down in the mouth. We thought we were going to be in on Friday morning and as it was we didn’t get in until Saturday afternoon.

When we saw land, it was amazing. It’s the real square rigger stuff. There’s somebody call ‘Land Ho !” and all that stuff. It was a bit of song and dance, but everybody was very excited. And you smell the land, pollution and bird s**t.

The oil rigs were the first thing we saw and they are burning the gas off. You’ve got smoke from the oil rigs and you’ve got humanity. It’s amazing.

Johnstone
Did you award any special prizes to any of the crew such as the smelliest or the noisiest ?

Date
No. We had a shower on board. With the water maker we would make 20 litres of water each day and three of us could have a shower. As soon as someone had had a shower, everyone else would point at them and tell them they smelt too nice; ‘we don’t want you around us!’.

Johnstone
Would you recommend this race to your sailing mates back at Sandringham Yacht Club ?

Date
Absolutely. In and around Cape Town the people were so friendly. The start was the first time I have raced a yacht race where you have had spectators. We went across the start line, sailed to the first mark, done a gybe set and I would say, five or six thousand people cheered as we did it. That doesn’t happen in yachting ! It was just amazing.

I would absolutely recommend this race.

The Scarlet Runner team are now enjoying some time out in Rio while they await the arrival of the German Archambault 34 entry, Iskareen, which has about 215 miles to go, and which could unseat Scarlet Runner from its second place on IRC.

For race information, go here.

By Tracey Johnstone


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