ay the wind fill your sails and the beer be cold" – that was the greeting prominently displayed across the balcony of the Royal Selangor Yacht Club in Port Klang to welcome sailors to the 23rd Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta. A message aimed at setting the tone for this well established regatta. It may only take a week from start to finish, but the combination of coastal passage races, inshore races and (rather importantly) high octane socials at all the stops makes this a thoroughly character-testing event. It's not a sprint. It's not even a series of sprints. It is a marathon, and only the strong survive. The weather can (and will) produce everything from super-light breezes to arced-up tropical thunder squalls, and the social programme is not far behind. The now familiar format was little changed from previous years, except IRC class 3 was dropped due to lack of suitable competitors and entrants were juggled around a little to fit in IRC classes 1 and 4. A few old familiar faces were missing this year, most notably Frank Pong and the crew of Jelik from Hong Kong together with multiple past-winner Neil Pryde in Hi-Fi. Back to defend their 2011 title were the crew of EFG Bank Mandrake and going up against them in IRC 1 were the Malaysian Navy's Utarid plus David Ross' Kerr 40 KukuKERchu, Bill Bremner's Foxy Lady VI and Ben Copely's Katsu.
Over the years, this regatta has attracted its fair share of sailing rock stars and 2012 was no exception. Noticed walking the docks at the RSYC and during the welcome party, they ranged from Volvo Ocean Race competitors, America's Cup veterans, World Match Racing Tour and Olympic Champions, through to Sailing Legends in their own right. How would you like either Gavin Brady, Jonno Rankine, Ozzie Stuart, Warwick Downes, Jamie Wilmot, Adam Minoprio, Fraser Johnstone, Alan Tillyer (Guilty) or Gijs Gunnerman (Guinness) on your team? How they would fair through the minefield of strong currents, copious fishing nets, floating debris and heavy traffic from Port Klang to Pangkor Island would remain to be seen.
Pre-start on the first Saturday - down came the rain. After a few grey, dry, moments as the competitors bade farewell to the Royal Selangor Yacht Club, the heavens opened with such enthusiasm that some people couldn't even find the Committee Boat. Of course, being tropical, it didn't last forever. By the time the first start at 1100h came due it had become just 'regular' rain accompanied by around 6-8 knots of wind as classes 5 and 6 were swept towards the line by a 4-knot current and headed up the coast in the direction of Pangkor, 90nm away. Two hours later, and it was time to start classes 4, 2, and 1. The rest of the fleet were still visible a couple of miles up the track, some with spinnakers drooping, some without, and everyone pointing in different directions, but the breeze on the starting line was sufficient to get everyone away.
The committee boat was a new 60' RFB high speed search and rescue vessel, made by Leisurecat and operated by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. Up came the anchor, down went the throttles, and off it went, delivering the race officer and his team to Pangkor only three hours later. The sailing fleet took a little longer! Fortunately the breeze did fill in and become more a bit more consistent after the first three hours or so. Then the tactics came into play. It was a race that required an exceptionally keen sense of where you were on the chart, a readiness to drop anchor very smartly, the ability to see the shifts were coming through, and tireless work on the sail changes. It took Geoff Hill's newly acquired Smith 72 Antipodes 13hrs 44mins to claim Line Honours, plus go on to take out the daily double in Premier Cruising Class 2. Nearly two hours later, David Ross' Kerr 40 KukuKERchu with Minoprio onboard crossed the finish line, with the Malaysian Armed Forces DK 47 Utarid skippered by Mohamad Razali Mansor only seven minutes behind them. Despite these gallant efforts, David Fuller's chartered Beneteau 44.7 Ichi Ban was first in the IRC Class 1 Handicap stakes. EFG Bank Mandrake managed the conditions well to hold onto second place, relegating KukuKERchu and Utarid down to third and fourth. Other classes finish somewhat later, with Australian Maid taking second spot in Premier Cruising and past winner Baby Tonga in third. In IRC 4, Jeff Harris's J 92S NiJinsky took first place, almost an hour ahead of Simon Piff's Rainbow Dream on corrected time. John Karta's Skybird was third.
Following the usual fun and prize giving on the terrace of the renown Sea View Hotel at Pasir Bogok, when the first trophies were handed out, boats and crews arrived on the start line early afternoon the next day. All classes went away clean in 3-5 knot conditions, but as soon as they were around the point on the west corner of Pulau Pangkor Laut the fleet was into good breeze and heading for Panang some 63nm to the north. "The good part lasted about an hour," said Warwick Downes (EFG Bank Mandrake) "and after that there was a zero speed 'lull' that lasted until almost 2000hrs (ouch!) followed by a gentle fetch all the way to the finish line." Mandrake was actually getting worried about the cut-off time, but all was well as they crossed the finish at 03.51 to score second place on corrected time. Once again top spot went to Ichiban, finishing six minutes behind EFG Bank Mandrake on the water and 19 minutes in front on corrected time. In fact the results look remarkably similar to Race 1, except Katsu and Foxy Lady swapped places at the bottom of the list. Sea Bass claimed honours in Class 4 after an agonising 20h 51m of "directed drifting" followed by NiJinsky some 90m later. In classes 5 and 6 the newly introduced system of "gates" at pre-set positions along the course gave most boats the chance to record a finish. Dato Alex Nah's Hunter 49 Virgo did a good job to take first in class 5.
Many sailors had only a short opportunity to rest before the action started at Straits Quay, with a healthy 16 entries for the now famous Rickshaw Races. After downing a quick half, the driver rushes to his or her chariot and strides away, propelling the passenger around a tight course. Racing rules apply and more than one unfortunate team got caught out by rounding the top mark to starboard rather than port. The lads from Aussie Maid took podium. Mount Gay Rum was awarded to the winners and sampled by enthusiastic onlookers.
Wednesday 21st saw the first day of shorter harbour races in Penang. Once again the zephers took time to get going, until a line of breeze was spotted on the horizon and gradually filled in for racing to get underway. Although the wind never got above 8 knots the IRC Classes 1, 4 and multihulls completed two windward/leeward races and the Premier Cruising and Cruising 5 & 6 completed a passage race around the harbour. The multihulls were all keen on opening their account and making an impression on this year's event. At the end of both races Rolf Heemskerk's chartered Stealth 11.8 Hurricane led the way by a healthy margin only to be relegated to third place on corrected time in both races.
For the last passage race from Penang to Langkawi the wind, a good 8kts of it, came in at 1400h and away went all classes in good order with no recalls. With a respectable WNW breeze to launch everyone up the course it looked like the fleet could settle down to some steady sailing. But it's never as simple as that along the west coast of Malaysia. Any developing sea breeze would give a left hand shift and any stray rain cells would produce… well, practically anything. Eight hours later the Santa Cruz 72, Antipodes, took line honours at the entrance to Bass Harbour, Langkawi, in a mere 3kts of left-overs after a big storm cell had crossed the top end of the course from NE to SW.
"'We never stopped," said nav Alan Tillyer, "but the wind was soft and fluky all the way, and again and again we tacked on 40 degree shifts to keep pointing in the right direction." All boats kept moving and as the night turned into early morning, the breeze increased a little and even the cruising classes came home with a rush. Although Datuk Richard Curtis' 100 year old Eveline, skippered by Trevor Richards, took 14 1/2 hours to cover the 40nm course, they won the only race that they had finished at that stage of the regatta. Second place in class six for Chris Mitchell's Lady Bubbly added to their earlier wins puts them in an almost unbeatable position for the Cruising Class 6 title. Keith Miller's Harmony 38 Sade 2 took third place. Lankawi Inshores were next for the cruising classes and multihulls, while the racing classes took a break. This is needlethreading stuff, where the passages between islands are narrow, and where a different route through the maze can make for big gains or losses. Quite possibly this is the only racecourse in the world that takes the sailors through a UNESCO Geopark, with rocky islets that are a combination of the shattered remains of volcanic activity many millions of years ago, and the marine erosion of what was once the uplifted limestone seabed. Adam Mowser, skippering Geoff Hill's Antipodes, said 'this is awesome – never mind doing sausages at the top of Bass Harbour – I want to do more of this!' Once again, finding the pockets of good breeze was the order of the day, lead positions changed regularly and all classes finished in reasonable time.
On the morning of the final day, drizzling rain and light shifty winds greeted sailors as they arrived for the last day of competition at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club. Crews made their way onto the water as the race officers went about setting the courses. Despite a huge wind shift that came through at start time, the Premier Cruisers and classes 5 & 6 got away on their harbour passage race ok, with the windward mark not quite to windward any more. The IRC racers, in a separate area of Bass Harbour, were held back for the wind direction to steady and the windward/leeward course to be relayed several times. Only one race was completed instead of two.
David Ross's KukuKERchu picked up her skirts to record her first and only win of the regatta. Series leader Ichiban, holding a full house of five wins from five starts, only managed a fourth place. There are no discards in the Raja Muda, but nine points from six races is hard to beat and Ichiban duly collected the Raja Muda Cup and the GAB Tiger Trophy later that evening. Skipper David Fuller said "I've done a number of Raja Mudas, but not for a few years now, and this series was as tricky as it gets." Ichiban, a Beneteau 44.7, sailed all but the last two races with only six crew – no bad thing in the prevailing light conditions.
In Class 4 Jon Cray's Swan 42, Sea Bass went into the last race trailing NiJinsky (Jeff Harris) by a single point, but pushed the J/92 down to second place to win the series on countback – by a single point. After leading the way in the early races Rolf Heemskerk's chartered Stealth 11.8 Hurricane was rolled over by Peter Wilcox's Schionning Gforce 1500 Mojo in the last two races to triumph in the Multihull Class. Two third places for Heemskerk's Hurricane left them in second overall and handing the title over.
There's no doubt it was a tough series for all concerned. The AP flew at the start of every single racing day. RO Jerry Rollin said, 'We were disappointed not to get the full race card completed, but conditions were really against us on the last day. It was certainly a 'light' regatta, but looking back over the records of the elapsed times for the passage races, none of it was outside the norm. There's always a slow race in the set – this time we just had more than one of them. There were close finishes on the water, and on handicap, and results for three of the six classes were decided on the final race, which surely means that we had 'close racing'.
The Raja Muda has always been a challenging and exhausting event for all concerned and remains so. It is an entirely unique regatta, and judging by the number of happy sailors at the closing party, one that is well-received and enjoyed by a great many people. On that final evening, cups and trophies were duly filled, drained, and filled again, and the party in Charlie's Place was showing no sign of quietening down at 0100h. Roll on 2013!