Heavyweights set for Geraldton fightback

Re-match – Optimus Prime (foreground) will be in hot pursuit of Limit in the Geraldton Return race.
Rick Steuart
The outstanding performances of Gary McNally’s GP42 Black Betty, Alan Brierty’s awesome R/P62 Limit and Todd Giraudo & David 'Dubbo' White’s double-handed Jeanneau Sunfast 3200 Kraken in the last weekend’s Redink Homes Geraldton Ocean Classic will be a distant memory when the return race starts at 9.30am this Friday.

South of Perth Yacht Club’s Geraldton Return race is traditionally a very hard up-wind race, with yachts slogging the 212 nautical miles against the strong seasonal southerly winds – or occasionally a westerly gale. The south-flowing Leeuwin Current can produce a nasty wind-against-tide sea state, adding extra spice to the mix.

Whilst the race to Geraldton is a downwind slide where the main hazards are whales and running out of spinnakers, the race back is entirely different. It usually favours a different type of boat – and indeed, a robust crew.

For this reason, two 2011 Sydney-Hobart entrants are expected to challenge the big Limit for handicap honours – Trevor Taylor’s Marten 49 Optimus Prime and arch-rival Phil Child’s Farr 49 Knee Deep. At nearly ten tonnes and with some very comfortable fit-out options including television and hot water, Optimus Prime is a full-carbon, Reichel/Pugh-designed wolf in sheep’s clothing – and she loves the upwind going.

Knee Deep is a very different boat, but also very strong upwind. An all-out race boat built more than ten years ago to the IMS rule, she weighs three tonnes less than Optimus Prime and carries no luxuries, but is not favoured by the IRC rating rule. She needs to beat Optimus Prime over the line by more than a minute an hour to have any chance of victory.

Deep and meaningful – Knee Deep’s focussed pre-Hobart campaign will continue in the Geraldton Return race.
Rick Steuart

One of Optimus Prime’s sister-ships, John Moore’s Charlotte, is an outside chance, though she doesn’t have the proven offshore credentials of Optimus Prime, Knee Deep and Limit. Terry Posma’s Runnalls 39 Jaffa, the third place-getter on the race up, could also challenge, along with Black Betty, Ian Stewart’s Foundation 36 R2D2 and Rob Thomas’ veteran IOR Davidson 50 Finistere.

The second biggest yacht in the Geraldton Race fleet, Garth Curran’s Inglis 58 Walk on the Wild Side, is not contesting the return race, and the stoic Bali Race competitor Andrew Dawson, sailing his Dufour Grand Large 365 Knot Dreaming, looks to have little chance of glory.

In the double-handed division, the sleek lines of John Holder’s Farr 11.6 Plus 16 should deliver sweet revenge for the downwind pasting dished out by the smaller Kraken in the race up the coast. Kraken’s wide beam, carried well aft, has proven to be sticky in upwind conditions, particularly in lighter air.

Fat Kraken – the neat little double-handed specialist had a fast ride to Geraldton.
Rick Steuart

As in the race to Geraldton, when a large windless hole denied Limit the race record, the weather is the wild card. The forecast light south-easterly conditions will negate the advantage of the offshore-hardened crews, and could result in some surprises. But that is the charm of ocean racing.

The race can be followed on the internet via the Hanson Construction Materials-sponsored Yellowbrick Trackers - http://www.sopyc.com.au/ .