Two weeks were spent in Darwin where we fixed some small items and prepared Spirit for the run to Ambon. After two months we were pretty excited to be there and couldnt wait for race day. I had arrange for two good mates to come along and race with us. One of them Murray had done the race nine times previously and is a great sailor and Nash has done bow on yachts such as Wild Thing and Living Doll and is more used to punching his way to Hobart than reaching into the tropics as we hoped to for the 600nm to Ambon.
This is pretty much what the race is known for the 600nm of blast reaching in ideal tropical conditions and one of the main reason we wanted to do the race. A few hours around the cans is fun but days of reaching deep off the wind with blue skies and warm winds is hard to beat! My parents had also decided to join us in darwin and we our shore race crew and support, which definitely helped things run smoother prior to race day.
The weather was watched daily and it wasn't looking good. The forecast was light..... super light with deep angles. Not great but hey it was warm and we were going to have loads of fun. Unfortunately the boat we thought may give us a good run for line honours was unable to race and so we were left to tussle with the two large monos, one being the year previous winner and race record holder for monohulls Antipodean the Santa Cruz 72 and the Inglis Walk on the Wild Side, which also once held the monohull race record. Our game plan was easy get out and away from Darwin as quick as we could. If the grib files and weather forecast was correct we only had until 6pm to get around Bathurst Island after that we would be sailing into a huge hole.
The start was a bit crude and we along with nearly all the other mulihulls missed the one minute gun so ended up being a little late for the start, thankfully we had 600nm to go! It was a slow drift out of Darwin harbor and up to the channel. From there the wind went north west and slowly as we sailed out into the bay swung around to the sw and increased to about 10-12kts. Once the wind had swung and settled it gave us around a 40-50 apparent angle which was pretty hot for our small reacher but we carried it as far as we could and slowly hauled in the big two monos which had put an early lead on us of about five miles. Just as the sun was setting we rounded the sw corner of Bathurst Island sitting on 14-16kts it was at this time we slid under both Walk on the Wild Side first and Antipodean second. The feeling was incredible to be getting passed them while on such a great angle and at such speed.
For a time we were a little worried about what would happen once we had cracked off and started to run deeper. Even though Spirit is an ex-formula 40 she's now got all the mod cons and is more so a cruiser so her weights a little on the heavy side, which in turn really effects her speed in the light and even more so when running deep. This to us was our archillies heel. So it was good to find out just after sunset and after we had all turned to run along the rumb line north that we were able to hold them off and run just as deep if not deeper and just a little faster.
The first night brought with it up and down conditions. At times the wind died to near nothing and we just floated along at the mercy of the sea then a zeffer would come in and wed start to move again. We just hopped that the boats behind had similar conditions to us. Both Walk on the Wild Side and Antipodean had AIS transponders onboard so when they were within about ten miles we could see them but over night we had lost them and as the wind had pushed us further west we werent sure that they hadnt passed us to the east. which was feasible if they'd managed to find a spot more wind. Thats the big problem when racing in super light airs it doesnt take much for you opponent to get passed you if theres next to no wind all they need is some!
After a few hours we spotted Antipodean on the horizon astern of us and also on the AIS again. It was reassuring to see that overnight we'd gone from 4nm to 7nm lead and that they didnt seem to be gaining on us. It was abouth noon when we had to decide on a route through the islands. Do we stay on this course and go in between two islands where theres a small passage about a mile and where theres bound to be major currents and wind effects or do we come up and run hotter and go to the east in the clear of land masses and in clear breeze. As you can imagine we opted for the safer and latter one. And as the day progressed the wind got light and made the choice easier allowing us to remain powered up and doing good speed for a few hours. It was during this time in the afternoon that we made some more progress on the other boats. We were sitting on solid 14-16s again for a few hours which got us a solid nine to ten mile lead on the larger monos.
The night again brought shifty conditions with the wind osscilating from SSE to S and from 6-10kts true speed, which makes going fast hard work. when the winds changes direction and the boats are on your tail you question the gybe your on and are always looking for what you can do to get things going faster. Its hard work and is very consuming this is where the experience of the crew comes into it. Having murray and nash whom have both done an incredible amount of top level sailing with some big names supplying solid tactics comes into its own. Racing really is a team sport and to have fellow crew whom can give good positive input about how the boats going with regard to wind and sea conditions is crucial and something we are very thankful of. it Just gives a more unified feeling onboard and gives confidence to the decision being made.
The next morning we felt good but we felt as though we werent able to pull away as our lead didnt seem to extend more than ten miles. The light breeze made it hard but as we approached Ambon having murray onboard proved to be a godsend. We were running well high of the rhumb line and were pretty much on a course for the eastern side of Ambon. Ambon harbor is on the west coast 30nm away so we needed to gybe. But when to gybe was the question. With Murray firmly believing that the wind would go east as we closed the coast the decision was made to carry on and head high of the rhumb line. About 60nm out from Ambon we got some cloud cover in small patches, it was just becoming dark now and it was our second night at sea. The green glow from the phosphorus was incredible as it peeled its way from the centerboard below the mainhull and blitzed off the rudder flying out from the stern as though we were being powered by a large water jet. We had dolphins jumping alongside and with the green streaking off them it was like someone had shot torpedoes at us. The cloud cover approached us and once we were below these little puffy white balls wed get an extra few knots of wind and leap forward hitting 18kts. The large reacher was still up as it was for 99% of the race but early on once the wind shifted east we dropped it and went for the small flat reacher. it was pretty much perfect condition for the little reacher as we neared ambon. We had about 14-16kts true, which gave us well over 20's apparent coming over the deck. Spirit was hitting high teens and we were loving it. We knew if we could hold this up we'd be pulling away some more and giving ourselves a good margine for the light air sail into Ambon.
Anyone thats done this race knows that its pretty much three races in one. Getting out of Darwin being the fist big challenge, the Timor Sea and getting to Ambon the next and finally into Ambon harbor which I believe has taken some boats in the past a day to complete the final 6nm from the entrance to the finish. This was a place we knew we could loose if we got parked and the boats that were sailing close behind caught up, so the lead up to Ambon was a little nerve racking. The other fun part is Indonesias love for FAD's, which are virtually anything they like tethered to the bottom to attract fish. these floating fish attraction devices are anchored as far as 20nm off shore and in water 2000m deep, since being here we've seen them made from bamboo and steel and the size of cars. So as you enter Ambon sitting on 14-18kts with the other boats close behind you never feel like you have it in the bag as you know theres so much that can go wrong. Again this is where having Murray onboard was essential. He'd been there and done the race so many times he knew what to expect. The FAD's around Ambon seem to mostly be lit so with sharp look outs posted we weaved out way into the entrance of Ambon harbor.
More solid advice from Murray was to stay well wide of the southern shores of the entrance here the wind creates a hole and leaves you dead in the water. We crept along the norther side of the harbor unbelievably staying in the breeze. We put the reacher away and drifted in under jib. As we made our way slowly up the harbor we felt incredibly lucky to have wind most the way and as we neared the northern shore and spooted the finish to the south the wind came in from the north west and gave us a great angle to the finish. You couldn't have asked for more it was as though we had someone watching over us and just as we sailed into the finish the wind died completely and we ghosted over the line. The hooter went off and fireworks blasted into the sky. We'd done it two days and ninteen hours to complete the 611nm that we had covered. Finishing was such a relief as we had been on edge the complete race with the large monos nipping away at our heels the pressure really was on for hte whole race.
With the Darwin to Ambon now comlete we have had lots of time to let it all sink in. The welcome we got from the locals and friends we have made is priceless. For anyone with a dream similar to ours I can't recommend this race more. Whether your on a fast trimaran, solid old mono of something inbetween this is a race where everyone wins. The prize here is the experience at the other end. The smiling faces of the kids the amazing Indonesia food, the welcome Ambon gives, the parites at the mayors and govenors homes it just cant be desribed in words it's an epereience and one we can't recommened more.
Not only for us has this race been unforgetable but also for the lcoals we met and that get to share in the race. For the people of Amahusu this race is something they love dearly. They love welcoming the yachts and meeting all the crews and they show it with the open hearts and huge smiles.
Spirit will be back and next time we hope for stronger winds and a race record! From Ambon Spirit has continued her crusing west and now she lies in Lombok for the off season.