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© AUS120 Sean O'Brien.
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DAY -1:

I took the midnight special flight over to Auckland this time for the 2006 “Barfoot & Thompson” New Zealand FW Nationals. Virgin Airlines in Australia never cease to amaze me with excess baggage and I (as always) got my 70kgs of gear over for free.

Arriving at some horrendous hour in the morning I was picked up by Ray Smith. Ray had organised the event mostly himself and had just returned back to NZ a short time ago from the FW Worlds in Korea. With the 3-hour time difference in NZ I slept quite well that night awaking in the morning to some of the windiest conditions I have EVER seen!

A massive front from the SW hit our spot on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, (about 1 hour north of Auckland, where the event was being held). For most of the day and night it was blowing anywhere from 45-60knots at the front of our house on the waterfront and it just got windier and windier the further south you went.

Tiri Island (5km south-east of us) was registering 66knot gusts and the west coast (we are on the east coast of NZ) at Manukua Heads had a few 75-80knot gusts!!! A few of the Kiwi boys racing at the event, Luke Watson & Luke Wigglesworth thought that some speedsailing at Green Bay (just south of Manukua Heads) would be a good idea. I heard stories of 42 and 45 knot peaks without even sheeting in and it was agreed that today was some of the strongest winds to hit this area in a long time!!! On the news that night there was some brutal damage around Auckland with roofs ripped off houses and heaps of trees and powerlines blown to the ground (or down the street!).

No chance of any tuning up today. Was about 40knots windier than the FW wind maximum…haha.

DAY 1:

A small but talented turnout for this years NZ FW Nationals. A few of NZ’s champion RSX team, JP Tobin, Haley Thom, Barbera Kendall and Shane Bright. Luke Watson, Luke Wigglesworth, Ray Smith and Maxxy Cross (sporting a mean looking Mohawk – Scott Fenton style!) making up a few of the notable Kiwi formula sailors. Missing in action was last years defending champ, Dave Holt (who apparently still has the perpetual trophy…). A total of 13 formula sailors and Barbera and Shane sailing RSX took to the line for the first race.

A slight reprieve from yesterday’s brutal winds. The forecast was 25-35knot SW winds easing in the afternoon… which it didn’t!

Race 1 began in some nuclear 25knots with gusts up and around 30knots. I started on the boat with JP Tobin (using his RSX sail on a Starboard 159) just upwind of me. We were quite evenly matched for pace upwind and were as close at the top mark as we were at the start, JP going round a few seconds in front of me. The water is relatively flat here considering the wind strength and upwind wasn’t so bad on my 9.8m. Downwind was a whole new ballgame however!

I don’t really have any of my gear with me in Australia as its still on a ship bound from Holland. I had to borrow a 9.8m and my smallest fin is an R13 73-cutdown at almost vertical rake (not the best highwind setup). Oh yeah, and a chicken-strap would’ve been nice! With my feet sliding all over the back of the board I somehow got to the bottom mark in one piece! JP cleaned out downwind and I had Luke Wigglesworth (on an 8.4m RS-Slalom!) and Luke Watson closing the gap behind me. The winds were shifting anywhere between 10 and 50 degrees and all of a sudden Luke W was inside me by about 200m at the layline downwind and I had to sit behind him on the upwind. I was able to point a lot higher with my bigger sail and halfway to the upwind layline I was in 2nd again and trying to catch JP…

This didn’t really happen and again Luke W got through me downwind as I had no control without the chicken strap and with such a massive fin! I held on narrowly to 3rd with Luke Watson crashing just on the line trying to pass me.

Race 2 I missed as I headed the long way upwind back to the beach to try and find a chicken strap from Max Cross who had retired for the day. Luke W and Luke Watson both had followed me to the beach and only Luke Watson made it back to the startline in time for the race. This gave JP an easy 3 minute win with nobody to challenge…

After a quick lunchbreak we were back out on the course. The wind dropping a little, still 20-25knots, but just a little shiftier (if that was possible!) and gustier…great! I managed to get the jump on JP in the 3rd start and had a commanding position upwind, heading to the mark. The wind was shifting and went a little fickle near the mark and JP somehow manages to point the same height when this happens. I struggled for power and allowed him to get infront of me, spilling his dirty air on me and I had to follow him around the mark. Downwind it was straight down to the buoy but on the 2nd upwind the wind was all over the place and JP tacked early onto starboard which proved a mistake. I went another 300m before tacking and took a big shift up to the mark on starboard and cleared JP by about 150m going around the mark. Unfortunately, that was the only luck I got as the wind crapped out and I was pumping just to stay moving, looking for a gust! I decided to gybe early as we were heading into the small bay inlet which didn’t look windy and heading back out to sea, I was barely planning. When JP came around the top mark a huge gust arrived, which I had just sailed away from and he ran straight down to the finish line, crossing me by about 500m in my lame attempt to get back to that side of the course. I settled for 2nd with Luke W a fair way behind us.

Race 4 I couldn’t let this happen again and seeing JP try a port start (which was NEVER on) I took a clear boat-end start and motored upwind, rounding the top mark well clear of Ray Smith who had passed JP on the upwind and was a clear 2nd. Downwind was consistent this time and I had another good lead going into the 2nd windward, using the same tactics as the race before and getting another lift in the middle of the course on starboard. JP had passed Ray on the downwind and had followed me out to the port side of the course, closing the gap a little but I still had enough distance ahead of him at the top mark to win this heat…or so I thought.

Looking at my GPS track just now this was one of the craziest downwinds I have ever sailed. The wind was shifting 20-50 degrees about every 5-8 seconds, with the wind staying relatively consistent. My track looks like a snake, wiggling up and down! One second I was ahead, the next JP was underneath me by 200m, the next, I was ahead, the next JP ahead again… it was really strange. At the layline the wind backed against me, allowing JP inside me and he just kept sailing, watching me, waiting for me to gybe. I tried a few dummy gybes which didn’t throw him and I kept sailing past the layline, trying to find a gust that I could round up in and beat him on pace. This didn’t happen and we gybed in the light air, JP downwind of me about 50m and able to just cover me into the finish line. Funnily enough, about 10m from the line I got picked up and flicked in a massive gust which was only a few metres wide and felt like it was on the wrong side of my sail (kinda felt like a helicopter going overhead!). I was still a fair way ahead of Ray in 3rd so this didn’t matter.

Back to the Manly Sailing Club (where the racing took place) for sausages and beers. Everyone was pretty shattered after the conditions of today’s racing, but tomorrow is forecasted for light winds so we’ll see what happens then…


DAY 2:

A little lighter today. The forecast was 10-15knots from the west, but as our course was quite a way off shore (due to the slightly offshore winds) it was a difficult gamble for some to choose a sail size.

I rigged up 10.7m and my biggest fin (R19) quite early in the morning but by the time the racing started it was beginning to look quite windy out on the course. This prompted a few to get on their 9.8’s/9.0’s but thankfully the wind never held. Race 1 was in some very light and shifty conditions. JP and me were almost the only two who got clean starts off the line, but JP got the jump halfway up the winward and I had to follow him around the top mark. This is where I stayed and by the finish we were a good 2 minutes clear of third place, as quite a few people who took too smaller sails out couldn’t get planning downwind.

We began Race 2 after the course was moved even further out to sea to find some wind. Luke W and Luke Watson started on port, with JP, myself and Ray a few of the only people who went out on starboard. It seemed we were going cream the port starters coming to the mark, but although we had the angle, the right side of the course had more pressure and Luke Watson managed to round the mark 1st, with JP not too far behind and me in third. JP eventually cleaned up Luke but I couldn’t catch him as the wind maintained its course throughout the second lap and there wasn’t any gains to be made by picking the shifts.

After a fairly long lunchbreak, we began the afternoon session with 2 races to be held. The wind had picked up a little to 16-20 knots at times, but still a little shifty and gusty. Race 3 JP again led from start to finish, taking a good lift on the right side of the course when myself and a few others again gambled on the left side. Race 4 I didn’t want to let this happen again, so I started on starboard again, with 90% starting on port…

With a few seconds to go before the 1 minute, JP came back to my side to start on starboard at the boat near me, but I was always going to tack onto port, I just didn’t want anyone to know this. About 100m into the race I tacked onto port with JP and Ray heading out to the left. I was above Luke W and Luke Watson about 200m and after getting a massive lift out on port, we got another massive lift on starboard. So much so, that we were beam reaching to the top mark in a huge gust when only seconds before we were pinching hard… I rounded the top mark with a massive lead to Luke Watson and Luke W, JP wouldn’t have been too far behind but I was halfway downwind before he rounded I think.

The wind remained consistent and it was a little follow-the-leader for the second lap. JP managed to get through Luke Watson and had to settle for second behind me. Finally I have a bullet under the belt.

That was it for the day and tomorrow we have another gnarly forecast of +25knots and some marathon races around the islands planned… stay tuned.


DAY 3:

Well, its been a long time since I’ve been to a three day regatta and had wind all three days; let alone ballistic winds for most of those days! We were at the beach by 10am and by then it already looked +20knots out on the course. Myself and Luke Watson rigged the biggest kit, 9.8/10m’s whilst the majority were on either 9.5m RSX sails or 9.0’s and Luke W on 8.4m…

Race 1 and 2 were textbook for JP. He led start to finish in the gusty 20-28knot races. I was a little way behind in 2nd both races as just before the first start the pulleys on my wide-tail end decided to bite the dust and with only a minute before the first start to fix it, I ended up just tying the outhaul on tight around the remaining pulleys – so that it couldn’t be adjusted at all. I think actually its more scary NOT being able to let outhaul off downwind in ballistic conditions… the sail gets so twitchy and unresponsive when its flattened; making the downwinds a little difficult.

After lunch it was decided to can the idea of the marathon race. The wind was pretty relentless, which would’ve made rescues difficult in the far reaches of the bay. So we headed out for another two races. Shortly before the first (after borrowing another boom backend and being able to finally adjust my outhaul) one of my footstraps decided to pull out! Damn it was hard sailing upwind without a footstrap to hold you on the deck! JP cleaned out on me upwind in this race as I was concentrating more on staying on the board than pointing as the short/sharp swells had started to pick up as the wind increased.

JP pulled a footstrap out aswell during the race so we quickly headed back to the beach straight after to fix our straps. The course was a looooooong way out to sea so by the time we had each fixed our straps we’d missed the start of race 4. JP was into the water quicker than me and started about 1 minute after the green flag. I was another minute behind JP giving Luke W a massive headstart as he was the only one of the top 4 on the startline…

Luke Watson was behind me at the start as he’d come to the beach aswell, but JP true to form managed to catch Luke W on the last downwind to win the race; I had to settle for 3rd as I was a long way back to attempt to catch Luke W.

A short prizegiving in the Manly Sailing Club with some great trophies and prizes and that was the end of the 2006 New Zealand FW Nationals. A small turnout, but one of the most proficient and professionally run events I have been to in a long time and I will definitely make the trip across the Tasman again to do the NZ Nationals next year.

If any of the Euros out there are looking for good events to do during the winter, New Zealand and Australia are the places to be. I have done the NZ Nationals twice now (the first time in 2004 with Micah Buzianis) and both times we’ve had +25knot winds. Jesper Vesterstrom was in NZ last year and I remember him talking about +25knot races! Give up on ever having wind in Europe at a FW ever again… get down under if you want to ever think of a 9.0m as a high-wind formula sail and not a light-wind slalom sail…c’mon!


  1. JP Tobin (NZ-151)
  2. Sean O’Brien (AUS-120)
  3. Luke Wigglesworth (1)
  4. Luke Watson (NZ-53)
  5. Josh Nixon (NZ-37)
  6. Ray Smith (NZ-0)
  7. Haley Thom (NZ-7)