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F-9AX Wins Governors Cup Race across South Atlantic

Frans Loots built his own F-9AX BANJO over a number of years in South Africa, and reports that he was first boat home in the Governors Cup, a race from South Africa across the Atlantic to the island of St. Helena.

Banjo loaded for 10 days, heading past Boulders Beach, False Bay en route to Cape Point
and the South Atlantic.

A great effort by Frans, and he writes:

Ian,

I have just returned home from sailing our F-9AX in a race from Simonstown (around the back of Cape Town) to the mid-Atlantic island of St Helen, 1,810 miles of trade wind sailing. See www.thegovernorscup.co.za

First boat in after 9 days 19 hours of sailing, and what a ride it was! My best ever. I know you don't like your smaller designs doing things like that, but well, I could not resist! Before the start we sailed the boat the 365 miles from St Francis Bay to Simonstown. This of course is down along the infamous South African east coast and around Cape Aghulas, the southern most tip of Africa. We did the 365 miles in 43 hours, finally running before a 45 knot south easter under storm jib only. That voyage showed us that at least we had a sound boat.

Some random thoughts and observations which you will find of interest. Firstly, the boat is about as stock standard as you can get. No special reinforcements or mods at all. Nothing broke or wore out. The mast is a bit heavier than standard, but that's about it. It is a fixed mast and I was quite happy about it. I think the constant movement of a rotating mast on such a long voyage could have lead to wear and tear problems.

We had the standard dacron sails, with square top main as per plan. We had no special spinnakers. We had a handed down kite from a 40 ft cruising cat and had it cut smaller. We had two borrowed spinnakers off a tubby little 30 ft monohull, one of which was an asymmetrical and was our work horse.

We sailed two-up which was primarily to keep the total weight down. This was however a mistake, as three would have been faster. We did three hours on, three hours off. Three hours of helming was too much, especially at night. Also the third person could have helped with sail trimming and sail changes. Once at the helm, it was difficult to reach the winches on the cabin top. We only have three winches on the boat. One halyard winch (self tailing) and two open sheet winches. We were very considerate of one another and would postpone gybes and sail changes to coincide with watch changes. Also I am North of 50, and my ship mate is just South of the big Five Oh.

We had about three days of 24 hour noon to noon runs better than 200 miles. We often had 12 hour stints of in excess of 120 miles. Our worst day was 139 miles after losing the breeze for a while. What counted against us was our lack of experience in sailing multi's under kite in the open ocean. We had no idea how hard we could push. One day of training  with a good multi sailer and we would have knocked 24 hours off our time.

In the end we started winding things up and we shot ahead of the pack. Also I found there is a big difference between cranking up the tri in a bay for a few minutes as against driving hard in mid-Atlantic. Where as 16 knots is fun on a Saturday afternoon, 10 to 12 is just fine in mid ocean. When our speed approached 14 kts in mid -ocean, we throttled back. You can sail yourself and the boat to pieces if you do it 24 hours long, day in and day out. Also, you as person cannot relax.

Cooking on our little single burner stove was never a problem. Our loo was a built in bucket and chuck it - never blocked! Electricity wise, we were even more minimalist. Speedo, LED nav lights, VHF radio. We used a satphone for race comms and a laptop for weather and e-mails. Hand held GPS plotting on paper charts. That was it. No chart plotters, wind instruments etc. Wind instruments would have been nice at night, as driving hard in the dark was "interesting".

Our galley. Gas stove with an aluminium pot, the bottom is cut out, leaving only a little
lip riveted onto the cooking ring to serve as a pot retainer. It worked well.

We charged two 105 amp batteries with two 45 watt solar panels mounted on the stern. Both panels were on fully articulating posts to maximize the sun. We had plenty of power despite little sun. We could have left one battery and panel behind. We used a Simrad 1000 tiller pilot to help. It was okay, but a bit nerve racking when sailing hard under kite, so it became lightly used.

Under autopilot in the trades. Simrad 1000. The plastic chair was a winner.
Legs cut off and lashed to two strips of marine ply.

Daggerboard hum - what a beautiful sound. Ours started to hum at 9.5knots. I will never try to get rid of it. It is nice when you lie in your bunk to hear the sound of the boat just smoking along.

Weight onboard was a challenge. The boat is very minimalist, and that helped. We took onboard about 80 litres of water and liquids. Proper food for two people for ten days, our sailing gear and clothes and some books to read. What was heavy, was the liferaft in the cockpit, the two solar panels on the stern, 50 litres of fuel for the outboard, the 15 hp two stroke engine on the stern and the capsize drum mounted in the scoop. We decided to put all our capsize stuff in the drum, so should we go swimming, one could just unclip the entire lot and take it to the raft. In the drum we had all the regular stuff plus a small axe to chop through the hull. The race organizers did not insist on an escape hatch, so I did not fit one.

We carried all capsize stuff in this drum on the scoop so we could take
the whole lot with us into the raft if need be.

In the cabin, the two big batteries were not exactly boosting performance either. All in all the boat carried the weight easily and I think we were well within the maximum payload. I was glad that we had built the wider AX center hull. A highlight for me was our night-time finish at the island. Two powerboats came out to meet us in the early hours. We could hardly see them, except for their nav lights. As we came up onto a beam reach under kite towards the finish line we crept up to 10, then 12, then 14 kts. All I could hear was the two boats opening up full throttle to catch us. They never did! At St Helena we were inundated with requests to go for a sail, and I think we were the only boat with such requests.

Anchored off St Helena

Afterwards, we dropped the mast, folded the boat and she came back with 9 other yachts as deck cargo onboard the RMS St Helena, the little mailship that serves the island. We will have the boat road hauled from Cape Town back to St Francis Bay in the next few weeks. What more can I say?

Returning to South Africa as deck cargo onboard the RMS St Helena,
the small mailship which serves the island.

The boat sailed like a dream. Nothing broke except the bow nav. lights after a wire chafed through (spinny sheet got hold of it) and I dropped the top batten into the ocean. We couldn't retrieve it because the water was 4000 meters deep at that spot. So we cut some batten off the bottom one to improvise .To sail that little boat down the trades..........you pick up a wave and you just surf forever and ever. Two fingers on the helm. Straight as an arrow. The boat goes "swoosh", totally quiet, except for the hum of the daggerboard.

Kind regards and keep well.

Frans Loots,

St Francis Bay,
South Africa.

One point about rotating masts - while they may move more than a fixed mast, there is also much less rigging and less things to go wrong. So which is best for reliable offshore sailing is debatable, and it comes down to individual choice. The F-28 that sailed around the world had a rotating mast, as do most of the maxi round the world multihull racers. A rotating mast would be my preference, plus they can also be fixed in the most efficient position if need be, to minimize any movement. Their extra efficiency can also mean less time at sea.

Original Launching

Earlier Sailing Report

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