by Jonathan Francis (Jono) on Steinlager 2

From a young age I aspired to be like Sir Peter Blake, Grant Dalton and the other sailors who took on the challenge to race and circumnavigate the world. Now aged 18 I feel like I’m taking the first steps in the right direction to make my dream of completing the same feat, a reality.

Earlier in the year I was lucky enough to come across an exciting sailing opportunity made possible by the New Zealand Sailing Trust. They were offering to take a youth crew aboard Steinlager 2, to sail in the 50th Anniversary Auckland to Fiji ocean race (ANZ Sail Fiji).

Steinlager. Photo by Chris Cameron

Steinlager. Photo by Chris Cameron

Once I was selected to be a crew member the build up for the race began. We were required to complete a qualifying journey and our Advanced Sea Survival Course (ASSC). This was done over a long weekend out on the Hauraki Gulf. The course involved an early morning swim in our wet weather gear practicing the operation and righting of a life raft. It also covered a huge range of skills and survival techniques, from firefighting to distress signals. It was a well worthwhile course which prepared us for any major, but hopefully unlikely, events.

During the weekend we also ran the boat as if we were in race mode, with watch rotations and optimum sailing for best performance. From our training site off Kawau Island we circumnavigated Great Barrier Island (overnight), sailed down the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula and onto Waiheke Island for the third night. A definite highlight was seeing dolphins playing in the blue phosphorescence during our 2am watch. As part of the buildup we also competed in a Royal NZ Yacht Squadron Rum Race.

Steinlager. Photo by Chris Cameron

Steinlager. Photo by Chris Cameron

Saturday 6th June, and it was finally race day. We gathered at the Auckland Viaduct at 8:30am for Customs clearance, final packing/organisation, and briefing.

Television was there to record our preparations and departure and I was interviewed by Martin Tasker and subsequently included on TV One Sports News later that evening (it was a brief appearance – 30 seconds of fame talking about the possibility of sea sickness).

At 11am we said our final farewells and stepped aboard to start our 1200 nautical mile adventure. With 24 crew onboard we looked quite special out there on the start line, all dressed in our red Steinlager jerseys.

At 1pm the gun went, and signaled the start to the 2014 Sail Fiji Race. 20 boats all jostled for position on the line, surrounded by hundreds of spectator boats. This was something I had never experienced before and I truly felt like I was part of a huge offshore race, like the start of the Volvo, Vendee Globe, Sydney Hobart or Fastnet.

Photo by Chris Cameron

Photo by Chris Cameron

Immediately out of the start the difference in yachting development and technology was obvious with Beau Geste and Giacomo rocketing away. It was incredible to compare Steinlager and Giacomo both Whitbread/Volvo boats built for the same purpose but 20+ years apart. It really shows how sailing, and particularly the yachts have advanced in that time.

The 10-15 knot northerly made for perfect conditions as we passed Rangitoto Light, Whangaparoa and the Poor Knights. I will always remember losing sight of Beau Geste over the horizon just before night fall as they accelerated away from the fleet.

The next 3 days consisted of up wind slogging, with wind ranging from 10-45 knots, with our boat speed never dropping below 8.5 knots.

Steinlager 2. Photo by Lissa Reyden

Steinlager 2. Photo by Lissa Reyden

This is where the sea sickness reared its ugly head , affecting 70% of the crew. I will admit that I suffered from sea sickness, (one of the first times ever), but in my defense I was not bed ridden and seemed to impress my watch captain when at 2am a reef was required and I was throwing up on the grinder while grinding the reef in. (Needless to say my grinding partner Steve was not so impressed).

Alistair Moore, the skipper, was insistent that all crew experience all aspects of offshore sailing. This meant while my preferred position is bowman, I also had the opportunity to grind, helm, and contribute to the running of the vessel. On our standby watch we cooked and cleaned, stowed and maintained gear, and monitored the health and wellbeing of both the crew and vessel. Cooking for 24 on a single gimble stove, pounding into large seas was definitely a challenge, but everyone seemed to get some form of hot meal.
By the fourth day and after a few tacks the wind dropped away and the lead we had built up over the first three rough days was all but gone as the lighter TP 52’s thrived in the lighter winds.

Unfortunately we found ourselves too far west of the rum line, praying for a westerly shift which never came. In 72 hours we drifted just under 100 nautical miles, with a maximum boat speed of around five knots. This calm patch while boring from a sailing perspective, was made interesting for other reasons as we saw an Albatross, Skewers, Flying Fish, Mahi-mahi, Dolphins and we even had a Whale visit us in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately on day 5, and still a few hundred miles from Fiji, a tough decision had to be made. With damage sustained in the heavy weather, the continuing calm weather, and the business and school commitments of the boat and crew, the call was made to turn on the motor and get to Fiji as quick as possible for repairs to ensure the boat was returned to Auckland in time to fulfill its other engagements.

This did have great benefits in allowing me to have two days in beautiful and hot Fiji to meet with the other sailors, have a look around the other boats, form sailing contacts for the future, and have a bit of rest and relaxation.

Despite having to retire from the race my first experience of ocean racing was fantastic. The opportunity that the New Zealand Sailing Trust gave myself and the other 3 youth crew was one we will cherish forever, and an important step in expanding our sailing careers into offshore racing.

As I said at the beginning of this report, my goal and dream is to one day circumnavigate the globe by yacht. With this Auckland to Fiji race adventure I feel I am now on the way. Not only have the captain and crew passed on invaluable knowledge, experience and sailing skills, but we have also created new friendships and contacts that will be invaluable to me going forward in my sailing career.

As a dinghy sailor my offshore knowledge was limited but with this race under my belt, I am hooked on offshore racing and hoping there are many more adventures to come.

Currently I am sailing on Blink (Shaw 40) in Wellington as principal bowman, and in the two handed series on Erazer (Elliot 780) with Chris Hargreaves. This coming summer season will see the continuation of my Laser Radial Sailing and hopefully and improvement on last season.

My next two upcoming major offshore races are the Coastal Classic, and The Central Triangle.

If anyone is ever looking for offshore crew I would jump at the experience and opportunity. Every race and more time on the water takes me one step closer to my goal.

I would like to personally thank:
The New Zealand Sailing Trust
The Royal Akarana Yacht Club
Port Denarau Marina
Erin McKenna – NZ Sailing Trust General Manger
Alistair Moore – Skipper/Mentor (Abbo)
Tom Collicott – Permanent Crew
Jemima Cooper – Permanent Crew
Jason Hendy – Permanent Crew
And the Crew of the 2014 Sail Fiji Steinlager Crew:
Markus Summerville – Youth
Tanya Peart – Youth
Hamish McGill – Youth
Tony Stevenson (Wanabe Youth)
Willie Turner
Alex Rosenthal
Steve Parsons
Ashley Major
Brent Blakey
Matt Woodley
Cath Woodley
Mike Gudsell
Craig Jenson (Groover)
Graeme Wilson (Ozzie Abbo)
Ian Winspure (Doc)
Michelle Khan
Richard White
Mark Summerville
Ian Cook