Festival of Sails - Anticipating break-neck speeds in Geelong

Ker 46 Patrice in action
The 2014 Festival of Sails is set to take place January 21-27 in Geelong. Tony Kirby, skipper of Patrice, had to adjust the yacht’s insurance policy, not because it crashed out of its debut Sydney Hobart with hull damage. Rather he anticipated it would record break-neck speeds at events including Geelong’s Festival of Sails starting next week.

'When I got the policy it said I’m insured to 20-knots of speed, and I thought ‘geez, this won’t do’,' Kirby said.

'So I’m now insured to 30 knots. The yacht’s sistership in Cape Town did 32 knots downwind; we’ve managed 25 so far. There’s nice flat seas and solid wind in Geelong on Corio Bay, so we’re excited to see what she can do.'

Kirby’s Ker 46 has set tongues wagging since her baptism in November last year, racking up a string of podium finishes and a fourth in its first test-run in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Cabbage Tree Island race.

All the success made the light-displacement carbon-hulled racer a fancied favourite for the coveted Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race’s Tattersall’s Cup, awarded to the overall winner.

It looked like Patrice was set to continue as she started, leading overall with just 50-odd nautical miles remaining on the run to Hobart.

But as a stiff sou’wester blasted 40, 50 and then over 60 knot winds across a confused, short and sharp sea near Tasman Island, the dream run came to an end.

Three fractures in two bow ring-frames surfaced and Patrice’s race was over.

Patrice on the lift
Festival of Sails Media
'We didn’t have a choice,’’ Kirby reflected while sitting inside the bow of his yacht which is on a Hobart slipway.

'If we had have kept pushing it would have made it a lot worse, it would have delaminated; we could have been in a life-raft situation.

'The crew understood. We all drew the same conclusion. We’ve got a big future ahead of us, so we didn’t want anyone injured or the boat broken.'

By the time Patrice sidled up to a mooring at Triabunna on Tasmania’s East Coast, the yacht’s designer and builder McConaghy Boats had hatched a plan spanning two continents.

Pre-fabricated sections were constructed in China to replace the fractured ring sections and flown to Australia’s smallest state, Tasmania.

And that’s just how it happened.

Last Wednesday a weather window finally opened up, allowing the crew to motor Patrice the remaining miles to Hobart, where she was slipped at Prince of Wales Bay, Hobart.

A McConaghy shipwright arrived the next day and the race against the clock to get Patrice race ready for the Festival of Sails started in earnest.

'The bad foam was chopped out and new foam was put in,' Kirby explained.

'More layers of carbon skin were added to reinforce both of the rings, it’s probably three millimetres thick either side instead of two now, and the points where the staysails are attached have been lowered to where there’s more bonding.

'It’s only about two-kilos heavier, but much stronger structurally.'

The round-the-clock repair effort means Kirby is now back on track in his racing program.

Patrice will return to the water today, Monday 13th January, her gear reloaded and delivery stock packed for the 400 nautical mile trip across Bass Strait to Victoria.

Kirby expects to leave Hobart on Wednesday and hopes to arrive in Williamstown on Port Phillip on Saturday.

The crew will reassemble on January 22 and begin training for Victoria’s oldest sporting trophy, the Festival of Sails, where they will join the event’s grand prix division contesting the Racing Series.

'I can’t wait to get there; it’s a chance to prove to the world that the boat is what I want it to be; that this is a world beater,’’ Kirby said.

'We’re not lying down, we’re not giving up, and we’re coming back stronger than before. We’ve still a lot to learn about this boat, but we’re ready to compete and start winning again.'

From Tuesday 21st to Monday 27th January an extensive sailing program will cater for all levels, with 17 different classes open to keelboats and multihulls from Australia and overseas.

The event will conclude Monday 27th, the Australia Day public holiday, with the trophy presentations and the final Shoreside Festival program of activities.

Festival of Sails website