Musto Skiff

Musto Skiffs at Hume Weir Regatta; 29-30 October 2017 :: AUS

Report & photo Tim Hill; Sailing Photo Shirleen Minato

With mixed feelings, the Victorian Musto Skiff fleet set off for the windless Hume Weir, some 350 km north of Melbourne’s CBD for their first regatta of the season.

6 boats turned up at this picturesque location.  Super legend Jon Newman recently relocated to Wangaratta (70kms south and the reason most of us decided to travel north), with freshly born baby George and proud Mum Em in tow,  Richie Robertson, Wayne Bates, big brother Paul Newman joined him from Blairgowrie while Tim Hill and Matt Houvengal made the trip from Port Melbourne.  Somewhat confusingly, Paul had lined up a last minute swap with prior Mustoskiff sailor, Brett Williams, so he could sail Brett’s Javelin two up with his new squeeze Amy.  Brett sailed Paul’s boat for the weekend.

Unlike recent drought years, the dam is 99% full with all locks open relieving water to the Murray River.  The lake shores were high, red gums usually visible in the centre of the lake covered by water and the sun shining.  Putting on its best imitation of an Italian lake (without the Italians) a thermal breeze greeted competitors lifting spirits dampened by a forecast of 4 knots gusting to 5.

A 29er, 420 and Wasp took to the water while we rigged, the breeze faded and said boats drifted in on a miserably mirrored lake, while the ever enthusiastic race committee and volunteers set off into their reflections to set courses - 3 in total, somewhat militarily titled ‘Alpha’, ‘Bravo’ and ‘Charlie’.
4 laps faced competitors with a target time of 40 minutes, which meant plenty of hoisting, dropping, tacking and traffic.

After a short delay the mirrored surface gave way to fleeting zephyrs of breeze and Race 1 got away in around 3-4 knots of shifty, chopped up breeze.  Matty showed the results of his miles of winter training, leading to the first mark with Jon in close pursuit.  Wayne Bates led the chasers through the mixture of 29ers, 49ers, contenders, tasars, lasers and sabres.  Jon managed to take the lead from Matty while he wallowed in a random wind shadow and Matty took it back, taking the first win.  Tim Hill stole his way back up the ladder to open with a third.

Race 2 began as conditions lightened further so Jon, Wayne and Brett decided the bar was better than the racing.  Matty led off the line to the first mark and was never headed.  Richie correctly picked the right hand side of the beat to arrive at the mark second, Tim third.  Tim overtook Richie to pull through to a distant second.

The last race of the day was canned and we settled in for an evening of beers, spit roasts and lasagne.  In a fortunate turn of event we left our run to the food late as they ran out of meat, felt sorry for us and over compensated by promising free breakfasts and ordering 30 pizzas, which we duly consumed, soaking up the alcohol and enabling Wayne Bates to introduce his muscat finishing wine to the table.

We retired to our tents and cars for the evening with full bellies and promise of a rarely seen 15 knot gradient breeze forecast the next morning.  We awoke to trees randomly bending to one direction and then another, while waves on the lake reverberated from every possible direction without settling on anything.
Our race committee again set the tone, heading out to set courses for a 9am start.  Jon sniffed at the weather and persuaded Richie, Wayne and Brett to stay ashore while Matty and Tim set out to the course on a run, which became a beat, which became a flat calm, before turning to a reach…whereupon it began to rain.

The Sailing Instructions stipulated a start no later than 1pm was possible on Sunday, on account of the distance most competitors would cover of their journey home and the anticipated presence of the apparently reliable thermal breeze, somewhat optimistically known to locals as the ‘ghost’. 

As with regattas everywhere, where it’s ‘never like this’, the gradient blew the ghost from the lake at 10:30, whereupon Jon was persuaded to put down his coffee, pull up his sail and launch into a 15 knot southerly.  On seeing him plane down the inlet, his fellow bar flies joined him and the race committee fired the prep signal and Race 3 got underway in a 10-12 knots shifting breeze.

Jon led to the first mark, followed by Matty and Tim.  Jon planed away from the competition, threading his way through a tightly bunched group of tasars while the rest of the fleet fought it out through the puffy, swinging breeze, settling eventually on their first mark positions though not before everybody except Jon feeling as though they’d been robbed in one way or another.

The gradient strengthened for Race 4, peaking at 22 knots.  It swung hard right on the second beat, turning the course into a fairly frightening, fairly quick, soldiers course littered with upturned or flogging 49ers, 49er FXs, 29ers, contenders, lasers and so on.  Surprisingly, the Mustos got through the flotsam without a hitch (or collision).  Jon took the race from Richie with Matty crossing third.

At 10 minutes to 1, the race committee reset the course and began their sequence for Race 5.  On completion of 5 races the drop came into play and Jon and Matty were tied on points; but unfortunately for Matty, his exuberance in the conditions led him to a near miss with a stupid Sabre sailor between races, who blissfully unaware of the Musto bearing down on him at 20 knots luffed to make a joke with his mate. 3 boat lengths to windward, Matty caught sight of the Sabre at the last second, luffed violently, pitchpoled and launched from back of the rack to land painfully on the forestay.  Under the new load the chainplate snapped leaving Matty with no option but to clean up his boat and accept a tow to the beach.

This left the fleet to start in 10-15 knots.  Tim led to the top mark and hung in until the final beat where Jon slipped through from the left hand side of the final beat and held it down the run to claim the win, Tim second with Wayne in third.

Final results the weekend went to Jon, Matty in second followed by Tim.

It was a ‘kind of’ great weekend.  Jon showed he’s lost nothing to the demands of fatherhood while Matty showed just how much he’s improved through winter and how fast he might yet be.  The lake showed its full range of personalities to confuse locals and visitors, giving us some pretty hot and unpleasant drifting conditions along with some extremely fast flat water rides in the rain.  In each race at least one Musto sailor was heard to lace expletives around a sentence that involved a vow never to return, ever again – but I suspect we probably will be back next year to try it out again.

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