Welcome to the Solo Trans-Tasman Yacht Race!
The idea of holding a yacht race across the Tasman sea to Mooloolaba originated in the late 1960s. New Plymouth Yacht Club members; Howard Vosper, Dennis Lobb and Phillip Goodsell proposed holding a singlehanded transTasman race at an AGM and a committee was formed in 1968. The only other singlehanded ocean race in the world, at the time, was the Observer Singlehanded Trans Atlantic Race (OSTAR) from Plymouth (UK) to Newport , Rhode Island, USA, and it was attracting large numbers of people.
The NPYC contacted Royal Western Yacht Club who ran the OSTAR and adopted the same rules for the trans Tasman event. Iconic English singlehanded sailor, Sir Francis Chichester, who had been an an OSTAR founder, also gave his wholehearted backing and support to a Tasman race.
Mooloolaba in Queensland was chosen as the finishing point, on the advice of the Royal Queensland Cruising Club, because it has easy access with sheltering breakwaters and is well clear of shoals and strong tides in Moreton Bay and Brisbane.
The first race attracted five entries, three from NZ, one from Australia and one from USA - an international race. So began an event unique to New Plymouth and of endless interest to the yachting fraternity of Taranaki, New Zealand and the World. Eleven races have been run with the next one being held in 2014.
Looking at previous Solo Trans-Tasman Race results, gives a good record of those involved to date many of whom have sailed on to collect other accolades and achievements. The race history tells of shipwrecks, dismastings, and an abandonment. The Tropical Cyclone "Hal" in 1978 gave the yachts a "hard time" but while two yachts have been lost (Josephine hit Middleton's Reef, Easterly One was rolled over and dismasted and abandoned at sea, but she later drifted to the Queensland coast and was salvaged) no lives have been lost. Anti-biotics taken for appendicitis by veterinarian Ian McBride - sailing Unique in 1974 probably saved his life. New Plymouth skipper Graeme Francis hit a whale in 1986 sailing Red Shift and probably thoroughly frightened both ship and the massive mammal she struck.
Only in three of the races has it been possible to pick the probable winner. In the other races there have been a few surprises. Bill Belcher, in the little Raha, in 1974 cleaned up the fleet to everyone's surprise. Pat Costello drove Chubasco hard in 1978 and won in an excellent time with a dozen very experienced yachtsmen trailing in his wake. In 1982 John Sayer in a fast ferro-cement sloop also headed of other yachts that should have beaten him. He won, but only by one hour, 28 minutes.
The fastest time ever for the crossing is held by Ian Johnston, who in the 1986 race, sailed the trimaran Bullfrog Sunblock the 1280 nautical miles in 6 days, 8hrs 50mins, an average speed of just over 8 knots. Alby Burgin's win in Alstar in 1990 was another great performance by a very experienced Australian. Driving hard into strong headwinds and rough seas, his crossing time of 7 days 18 hrs was a great and memorable effort for someone around 74 years of age.
The Solo Trans-Tasman Race has been enthusiastically supported by the Short Handed Sailing Association of Australia. In some of the past races, notably 1986, Australian skippers predominated with the first nine yachts to finish. Beginning in 1982, a two-handed race from Sydney to New Plymouth (then called the Transfield Race) has provided a feeder race for the solo race. Some of these yachts have then raced back to Mooloolaba solo.
Sailing from New Plymouth, and once clear of the coastline, yachts have a clear passage to the Mooloolaba entrancene which is well marked by the big lighthouse on nearby Point Cartwright. Lord Howe Island and the Elizabeth and Middleton's Reefs area lie close to the track and Bill Belcher was unfortunate to go ashore there, largely due to the stormy skies created by Cyclone "Hal", preventing him from getting an accurate navigational fix.
Likewise John Jury's Easterly I, would not have been abandoned, had he know his position.
When found, he was fairly close to the coast and didn't know it. His navigation sextant and tables were ruined in the capsize. The language difficulties on a Japanese crewed ship prevented him from finding out where he was until well after being taken off his yacht. Easterly I, came ashore at Fraser Island, above Mooloolaba, and was later salvaged.
A survey of yacht types and numbers entered, covers the whole range of sailing craft - monohulls, catamaran and trimarans. Trimarans Rebel (in 1970) and Bullfrog Sunblock (in 1986) have won the race, along with catamaran Yentracam (in 1978).
The smallest yacht to compete was the 5.3m Swirly World in Perpetuity sailed by musician and writer Andrew Fagan from Auckland. The slowest race was by Roger Taylor who took 35 days to reach Mooloolaba in the 5.8m ferro cement Roc in 1974. Ketiga, a small hard chine plywood yacht, sailed by Gerry Clark, made an excellent crossing for a boat not much larger than a trailer sailer. She was later sailed around New Zealand and out to the Chatham Islands to raise funds for the Keri Keri stone store restoration projects and her skipper went on to gain fame as a Southern Ocean seabird researcher.
Yachts competing in the solo races are required to make two crossings of the Tasman Sea. Those leaving from New Zealand have to come back again and there are numerous interesting incidents recorded on these voyages. Tony Allen in the trimaran Rebel II was capsized in good weather two days after leaving Mooloolaba on the return voyage in December 1974. He spent many days adrift in his life-raft before being rescued and taken to Melbourne on a freighter. Unique, skippered by Ian McBride hit a submerged object and sunk off the coast of Southern Queensland and he also had to take to the life-raft and was rescued. Ketiga sailed through five gales on a very stormy mid-winter passage back to Keri Keri.
The big question in 1978 was what had happened to Bill Belcher and Josephine. The yacht was eventually found submerged on Middleton Reef by the Royal Australian Navy. There was no sign of the skipper, but his life-raft was missing and weeks later he was found at sea by a freighter on route to Nauru Island. Bill's story was later portrayed in a film.
The 1982 and 1986 races were relatively routine by comparison. Notable events were Peter Mounsey sailing Breakaway/Quicksilver who had competed in the race three times. Australians filled the first eight placed in 1986. The 1978 and 1986 races both had 15 entries and they have been the largest fleets to depart New Plymouth.
Strong westerly winds blowing straight from Mooloolaba made for a rough mid-Tasman crossing in 1990. The big waves just threw the yachts off course time and time again and the wind never let up. The conditions soon weeded out the good windward performers. Prospector (Owen Stuart) and the trimaran Whakatere became casualties and returned to New Zealand.