Blue Water Racing in Western Australia

“Iconic races such as the Bunbury Return are pillars of the ocean racing in Western Australia and are a badge of honour worn by all who undertake the adventure.”


The Bunbury and Return Ocean Race is a signature overnight ocean racing event held annually along the west coast of Western Australia.

Hosted by Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club and held in February, teams would usually expect the wind to be blowing a strong sou’wester along the Western Australian coast and, every now and then, even tougher conditions thrown in by the coast.

As Day One of the 74th race started near the coast in North Fremantle, the fleet set off at 9am in a moderate southerly wind. After an incident-free start, it was David Davenport’s Crush, a J/V TP 52, that led the pack to the first mark.

There was a close race going on behind them with the 40-footers Enterprise Next Generation (Botin Carkeek GP 42), Weapon of Choice (Mark Nagle’s Fast 40+) and Obsession (Mat 1245, Paul Arns) working up the shore on the left side of the course. Geoff Bishop’s CheckMate appeared inside them at the mark after working up the righthand side.

Enterprise NG only narrowly passed ahead of the Summit King 40 which then tacked in behind to round the mark. From there it was an easy reach to a beacon inside Rottnest Island before setting their sights on the southbound leg to Bunbury.

Throughout the afternoon, the wind strengthened and the sea began to roll. This was a challenge for the teams as they raced to windward all the way to Bunbury. The 40-foot racer-cruisers continued their close competition. Obsession led the challenge with CheckMate, Al Fresco (Bakewell- White 36) and Wayne Pitcher’s J/122 Lithium hot on her stern. Last year’s season champion Atomic Blonde was with Obsession but much closer to shore.

The race was going well for Obsession. Navigator Scott Disley said they had a nice line in to Bunbury. This was the first race out for the yacht in the 21/22 season and the team had decided to take on the challenge for a bit of fun. They were a crew of experienced ocean racers that do not regularly race together on the boat. The conditions took their toll with the tired crew on Obsession opting to return home mid-afternoon. John Rayner in Al Fresco was also disappointed to retire from the race with damage leaving the racer-cruiser challenge to Lithium and CheckMate.

Chris Hind and his team on Sagacious IV used the Bunbury Race as a training event. The river-based Farr 40 from South of Perth Yacht Club is preparing to contest a full ocean racing series next season and is working to develop the crew and boat with the goal to perform at the best of their ability.

Chris commented after the race, “It certainly did challenge the crew. Some had not done an over- nighter for quite a while whilst for others, this was their first. Hats off to them for their endurance and focus. Iconic races such as the Bunbury Return are pillars of the ocean racing in Western Australia and are a badge of honour worn by all who undertake the adventure.”

They sailed a good race, not too far behind the Dufour 40 Fourth Dimension skippered by Lyn Powell and Ian Whitehead and came in ahead of them overall on PHS in Division Two, Sagacious IV taking out the top spot.

Just prior to 9pm, Crush was the first to round at the mark boat in Bunbury’s Koombana Bay.

After close racing all the way, Weapon of Choice was next to arrive at the Bunbury mark with Enterprise NG dropping back 18 minutes behind them.

Mark Nagle’s team were further inshore when the breeze began to rotate to the east, the Fast 40+ gaining an advantage. They reported after the race that they lost their instruments before the rounding mark. On returning, they took a more westerly route outside the reefs, trusting their routing for more wind strength. This tactic worked out for them.

After the race, Nagle commented “under a moonlit night with no instruments, sailing purely old-school, we pressed hard on the A4/SS then the A6/GS, and finally the FR0/GS. Stopping once on the way to clear weed and stop our prop from spinning, we managed to get away from Enterprise and hang on to the TP 52.”

The demanding work and focus paid off for Weapon of Choice, which placed first in Division One and Overall, on both IRC and PHS.

Another tight battle was taking place between Lithium and CheckMate. They were met at the beacon inside Rottnest Island by Hugh Warner’s Ocean Ranger III, the Elliott 35ss had been gaining ground through the night on the run back in a dying breeze. In the crew of Ocean Ranger III was 18-year-old Grayson Downs who has come through the youth sailing programmes at RFBYC. New to the long-distance events, he was finding his sea legs in the race but got on with the challenge.

All three yachts were together at the turn and sailed close on the final beat to the finish. CheckMate arrived first but Wayne’s team on Lithium placed ahead on corrected time with a 4th place finish in the IRC result, and 2nd in PHS in Division One.

It was a lonely sail back for Simon Torvaldsen’s Atomic Blonde (JPK 10.80) who placed first in Division Two IRC. The only double-handed team in the race was Kraken who followed her over the line, Todd and Dubbo hanging in to complete the race on their Jeanneau Sunfast 3300, even though the conditions were not what they ordered. They placed third on IRC in their division behind Salacia II, an offshore icon built in 1971 and owned by Ross Norgard from RFBYC.

The last yacht over the line was Winston Scotney’s Corniche. She sailed farther out to sea for the later part of the leg south, which did not pay off for the team. The Warwick 46 completed the race in one day, 9 minutes, making it home in time for Sunday dinner.

David Davenport’s Crush is new on the scene in WA, and the crew have been working hard to get used to their larger boat, previously competing on a Sunfast 3600. The team were first over the line in 19h, 6 minutes. Owner/skipper Dave comments, “Our first bluewater race went well, with crew working hard to keep Crush going. We had a good start and upwind leg and arrived at the turn in the Bunbury ahead on IRC. Our sail changes had gone well, given they were our first ones we had completed on the racetrack, and in breeze. Apart from concerns about weed on the rudder, which we could not resolve on our beat down, we were in good spirits.

“On the way home, our prop was spinning and vibrating through the boat and rudder, and we could not get it to stop. Despite this, the crew were tireless in their efforts to try and get extra speed. We were happy we had made it back in good shape, first over the line, second on IRC overall, and we learnt a huge amount about managing the boat, fifteen crew, food, water, rest and hydration. It was a tough first blue water outing, and we are happy to have been a part of this event and looking forward to the 75th year event!”