|Raja Muda sails for the 24th time|
Asia's most tactically challenging Regatta."
Sailing conditions along the west coast of Malaysia are unpredictable, to say the least. Forecasts have to be treated with extreme caution – or ignored. What can be confidently predicted is that the weather will be hot, often wet, occasionally blowy and often light. Even the official met people have expressed some puzzlement at the general patterns, saying, 'it seems to come from all over the place.' Welcome to the world of the Raja Muda, where a quick glance up the race course on a regular basis is often as good a forecasting system as any.
There will also be fishing nets – the closer inshore you sail, the higher the chance of becoming entangled – and on the run in to the Penang finish there are the shifting sands of the notorious Kra Bank to contend with. Port tack, both eyes on the depth gauge, and go about as late as you dare in order to minimise the mileage around the top end. A navigator's delight, or nightmare, depending on your idea of fun.
For the 24 th edition the organisers introduced a number of departures from the wellestablished running order. The opening dinner took place at the Royal Selangor Yacht Club, but most of the fleet moored at the new Pulau Indah Marina instead of in the Klang River. The first race start line was set at the southern entrance to Port Klang, with the fleet leaving the Angsa Bank to starboard as they sailed north. Later in the week, the finish for the Penang-Langkawi Race was near Rebak Island and boats were accommodated in Telaga Harbour – a change of scenery from the previous location at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club. Also, all boats raced inshores on Friday as well as Saturday, a departure from the previous year's format for the IRC classes.
There were 36 names on the entry list. Five of the seven boats in Class 1 have raced before – Utarid (Royal Malaysian Navy), Foxy Lady VI (Bill Bremner), KukuKERchu (David Ross), EFG Bank Mandrake (Burns/Kinmonth), and the evergreen HiFi/Neil Pryde combo. First-timers in Class 1 were Sarab Jeet Singh's Sydney 40, Windsikher, and an entirely unknown quantity in Takhovski Alexey's straight-out-of-the-box Farr 400OD, Lero 3. The KukuKERchus claimed bragging rights for having a 1/3–ladies crew, but were challenged in the gender stakes by Simon Piff's Rainbow Dream. David Ross brought in Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie, recent winners of the Rolex Sailors of the Year Awards, to bolster the team and add to the list of superstar crew.
Dr John Wardill's Australian Maid (Class 2) has competed so many times that the boat does its own navigation. Having been beaten to the Jugra Cup by the Maid in the very last race last year, Antipodes (Geoff Hill) was keen to make amends. Also in the Premier Cruising class was Peter Cremer's new and very silky-looking Shahtoosh. Her predecessor was a winner of this division, so Cremers and crew have a reputation to maintain. Brian Pozzey's Sailing Adventures was formerly Baby Tonga, another former winner.
Class 3 comprised only three boats, but two are old hands. Jon Cray's Sea Bass used to be La Samudra, and Gordon Ketelbey has changed the name of Ichiban to Fujin. Only Brian de Vries's Steele de Breeze is a Raja Muda virgin. The bulk of the numbers came in classes 5, 6 and 7, and enthusiastic followers of the Raja Muda will see some familiar names there (Eveline, Chantique, Rainbow Dream and last year's C5 winner Lady Bubbly, among others). Peter Wilcox brought his Mojo back to chase another Multihull title.
Day 1, race 1, Port Klang to Pangkor, 90nm. Hot and sunny, with a promise from all the weather websites of some light wind. PRO Jerry Rollin took off to set the line for the 1100h start group. All boats in Classes 5 and 6 got away safely in 5 knots of breeze from the southwest and 3 knots of carrying tide. Course 330 to Pangkor, but not before leaving to starboard the mark on the edge of the Angsa Bank – which not everyone remembered, and paid the price with a DSQ. Second start sequence, 1300h for Classes 4 to 1 and all away in good order.
The new start added 10nm as well as sending all boats to the west of the Angsa Bank, littered with fish traps that made northerly progress up the bank against a foul tide an exercise in brinkmanship. Too far west, more tide; too far east, closer to the nets and the risk of a wind shift that could suck you into dangerous ground.
The weather forecasters were wrong. The race started in 10kts of building breeze, topping out at over 20kts from NNW for some yachts. It was looking like a fast trip with a Code 0 as frontrunner Antipodes reached 14kts of boat speed, overhauling the 1100h starters one by one. But it didn't last. Gradually the breeze died, and down went the anchor at 1710h for 40 minutes. In the super-light stuff, HiFi crept away to leeward looking for shore breeze, and the rest of the class leaders either slowed to a crawl or parked completely. Still at anchor, Antipodes watched while the chasing fleet roared up from behind at 8kts, and decided it was time to go. From there on it was a straight line reach in steady breeze to the finish, 60nm away. With 72' of waterline, and fully powered up, Antipodes trucked up to Pangkor at a steady 10-11kts, taking Line Honours and the win for Class 2 (Premier Cruising) at 0117, 12hrs and 2 min after the start.
For their first Raja Muda in Class 1 the crew of Sarab Jeet Singh's Sydney 40, Windsikher, sailed a blinder by finishing third in class over the line and taking the bullet with a 2 ½ minute lead over second place Foxy Lady on corrected time. The Class 3 finish was nail bitingly close as Fujin (formerly Ichiban) crossed just 45 seconds in front of Steele De Breeze after 17 ½ hours of racing. As the two boats have exactly the same handicap, Fujin took the top spot.
One thing that is (mostly) predictable about the weather in this race is that the wind at Pangkor will die just after dawn. And sure enough, Class 4 leader Nijinsky was a mile or so from the line when the breeze did just that. Slopping about for almost an hour in the chop from the earlier blow and going nowhere, they could only watch as Mat Saleh came over the horizon, picked up a south westerly and gained enough ground to eventually finish 25 minutes behind them but take the win on corrected time.
In Pangkor the fleet have two options for mooring. Yachts can anchor opposite the Seaview Hotel, good holding but very tidal, or enter Pangkor Island Marina, a safe haven with a fairly shallow entrance channel. Following the first party and prize giving, some skippers either got up late or didn't check their tide tables closely enough, resulting in several of them getting stuck on the mud and having to rush full tilt for the start line. Classes 5 and 6 had their start position moved out of the lee of Pulau Pangkor into the beginning of a breeze from 320 - precisely the direction of Penang. Classes 1-4 started south of the island, and those that went right and in towards Pangkor found a back eddy in the tide that lifted them round the point to begin the long beat NNW.
Simon Piff and the merry matelots on Rainbow Dream (Class 5) decided to cross the southern end of the Kra Bank instead of the top end near the Penang finish line. 'We got fed up with the depth alarm telling us that we were in shallow water every 20 seconds or so, so we switched it off. Did the Great Southern Route work? Well it might have at a different state of the tide (no, we didn't go aground) but we still ended up last in the division, so maybe not.'
Sea Bass (Class 3) reported 'good solid breeze all the way' except for a hole guarding the finish line – the 'classic south-of Penang hole that caught nearly everyone. The exception was Neil Pryde's HiFi, who missed the hole completely and romped home to a Class 1 win, finishing a massive 3 ½ hours in front of the next boat home (KukuKERchu) and 2 ½ 'corrected' hours ahead of second-placed Foxy Lady VI. The Foxys missed out on the current lift round the end of Pangkor, and then 'fought like badgers through the entire remaining 50+ nm and managed to claw back into position before we were all becalmed.' When the wind built once more, Foxy Lady squeezed past her Class 1 competitors to record second place.
Once again Geoff Hill's Antipodes made full use of the available breeze to power up for a rhumb line. But after close racing with HiFi nearly all the way, she blotted her copybook with an unscheduled stop on the Kra Bank (yes, you are aground!) and watched HiFi sail away. Never the less the Antipodeans claimed Line Honours win and a Class 2 win for the second time.
Even the traditional Rickshaw Races around the edge of Straits Quay Marina in Penang were affected by weather this year, with a heavy shower holding up racing for a while. But Raja Muda crews are tough, and the event continued after the shower with thrills and spills on a wet track and much cheering for the runners and riders.
The Wednesday Penang inshore races in the Raja Muda series are best known for hot sunshine, flat water and a long wait for a sea breeze to arrive. The 2013 start was rather different – 10 knots or so from the northeast, and persistent rain. All RMSIR inshore races are organised with Classes 1, 3, 4 and 7 on Course Red and 2, 5 and 6 on Course Yellow. For both of these groups in Penang, the race officers had their work cut out this year.
On Course Yellow, post start progress was fine until Antipodes in Class 2 found that the windward mark had disappeared. The misty conditions meant that the mark wasn't visible to the start boat and the race team concluded that this substantial yellow buoy with anchor had been stolen by a local fisherman! Attempts to re-route the fleet around a navigation mark were not successful as Antipodes had passed that already, so the race had to be abandoned.
On Course Red, in Class 1HiFi quickly stretched her legs to round the top mark in pole position and ran down to the bottom mark. After that it became complicated. Lero arrived on starboard with Windsikher overlapped on the inside. Windsikher had the inside berth, but the cross tide forced her to point up for the mark – just as Lero was being swept down to it.
Windsikher chose to kiss the mark in preference to a collision. However, she hooked the mark in the process and started to carry it away. At the same time, EFG Bank Mandrake crossed behind the first pair only to meet Fujin coming to the pin on port – Fujin gybed to clear the area, but connected with Mandrake in the process and was subsequently DSQ'd.
Next, the incoming Class 3 fleet was obliged to round Windsikher who was still in control of the mark, before a RIB flying an 'M' flag took up position. Class 4 safely rounded the 'M' flag, but the leading multihull in Class 7, Mojo, performed exactly the same manoeuvre as Windsikher – and hooked the mark boat (which, finally, was replaced by the original mark.) Who would want to run a race team! The class Red boats then thankfully all completed a second race without incident but dying wind and strong tide lead to course shortening.
Back on shore, and time for the prize giving party at the Straits Quay Atrium. Great Penang street food, fast flowing beer, and a lion dance from the troupe that is considered by many to be the best in Asia. Strangely, the problems of the day are rapidly forgotten in this environment.
After Wednesday's drizzling rain and swinging breeze, the start up to Langkawi was conducted in a gentlemanly 10kts from the nor'northeast, and all classes went away clear in sunshine. Some boats took a hitch to the right, but for everyone it was a straight line course at 310, 58nm, with most of the breeze around 14-15kts against a short choppy sea. Back in 1995 the last coastal race of the Raja Muda finished near Rebak Island. At that time, Australian Maid was the record holder for the trip, in something like 9 hours. In 2013 she finished the course in 9h 01m, but Line Honours went to Antipodes in 7h 45m.
Boats anywhere left of the rhumb line gradually fell off towards a collection of rain squalls on the western horizon, but those who stayed hard right – principally Foxy Lady and Utarid – picked up some right hand shifts at the top of the course and saved time by not having to tack back for the finish. Hi Fi bounced over fishing nets on the SW tip of Langkawi, as other yachts had done during the various parts passages races, and EFG Bank Mandrake made a stop to clear nets from her prop. The slower classes had to deal with strong tide at the finish line but everyone made it eventually. With the fleet gradually trickling in to Telaga Harbour, 'Tapaz" and "Marie Blue" stayed open all night to welcome sailors with cold beer and hot food, making the long night worthwhile.
Two days of inshore racing off Telaga saw shifty, inconsistent winds that tested the race officer's patience once again. The result was quite a lot of waiting around for the breeze to settle and one race only each day for Classes 1, 3 and 4. The Yellow Course boats completed a longer island course each day, with Geoff Hill's Antipodes going aground in the first race in an uncharted shallow patch.
Racing over, and results were close in several classes. The Raja Muda cup was hard fought this year. Both Hi Fi and Windsikher gained two first places and there were seconds dotted all over the score board. But it was Foxy Lady, with three first places to her credit, who took the Raja Muda trophy in the end.
At the prize giving party held in the Mediterranean ambience of Perdana Quay, a very happy Foxy Lady crew partied into the night. Billy Bremner has contested the Raja Muda ten times with five different boats. Two years ago he came within a whisker of a win, but touched the last mark of the very last race. Bremner said that 'winning the Raja Muda against the level of competition that we see here regularly – especially the Hong Kong boats – is a dream come true. We worked no harder for this win than we have all the other years, which means that we have been working damn hard for 10 years!'
There was just as much cheering in the Australian Maid camp as Dr John Wardill's birthday present this year was the Jugra Cup (Class 2, Premier Cruising). Aussie Maid has sailed the Raja Muda 23 times, and this was their third win. "But it is just as sweet as the first," said Dr John. In cruising class 5, Lady Bubbly repeated her win of last year and the bubbly certainly flowed. Other results were Mat Saleh first in Class Four, Kay Sira first in Class 6 and Miss Saigon first in Class 7.
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of this most challenging of Asian regattas, and many old Raja Muda hands will be returning to mark the special occasion. If you haven't taken part before, then give this event some serious consideration. Registration opens in January.www.rmsir.com