Walpole Regatta In The Trees: 5-6 March 2022


The majority of the OGA contingent taking part in the Walpole Rally arrived on Wednesday afternoon and after quickly setting up camp we had dinner in the local pub, where most of us enjoyed a tasty fish and chips accompanied by suitable beverages. The Coal Mine Beach campsite is situated in a lovely grove of peppermint trees located above the south facing beach of the same name.

Campsite residents

Michel Arthur was having dramas with his car and had been towed into Bunbury where he had hired a ute (mine site white) and was on his way with Arapoa. Michael arrived later in the evening and we all helped him set up his tent. A slow start on Thursday morning gave us time to finesse our camping arrangements and launch our boats.

OGA Fleet anchorage

After launching many of us set up ‘temporary moorings’ just off the beach in front of the campsite. when everyone was ready we set off for a leisurely sail south in light winds towards the inlet’s connection to the sea. For first timers to the Nornalup inlet this gave us a great introduction to the area. On the way we saw dolphins and an Osprey.

The inlet from the sea is a series of very shallow and narrow channels, marked with plastic pipe withies. In a dying and shifty wind sailing in the narrow channel was extremely frustrating not helped by a slight incoming current. After numerous groundings, drifting sideways, on Kailani we eventually gave up and used the engine. The skipper’s ego was completely shot, especially as we were tail end Charlie, so everyone was watching our chaotic efforts to sail a stalled Bay Raider up wind.

Andrew welcomed us with some very tasty chicken sandwiches care of Anne, which helped us recover our composure. After a short walk over the dunes on the east side of the inlet, we then sailed another 150m south and landed on the west side of the inlet and again explored on foot the entrance area. Whimbrel sailed around the corner and looked like she was going to take on the Southern Ocean which was breaking across the offshore bar.

Sealers Cove and Entrance to the Nornalup Inlet

The steps over the heavily vegetated dunes to the sea had collapsed, and the track had been closed, so we decided to sail to Sealers Cove about 1km to our west and use another path to walk to the ocean at Circus Beach. This was a lovely walk through some really interesting, unspoilt bush (no snakes this time!). The coastline was quite rugged with cliffs and rocks, Circus Beach is a weather beaten beach with a dangerous looking rip and offshore bar. After a few photographs, and putting our feet in the Southern Ocean, we walked back to our boats and on the return leg sailed back past Newdegate Island (aka Snake Island) in light winds and returned to the Coalmine campsite beach. The evening meal was a communal BBQ, as is now the tradition at Walpole.

On Friday the wind was still light in the morning, but with a promise of more wind later in the day. Some of the C Fleet boats had planned to sail up the Franklin River, however this plan morphed into an afternoon sail around the southern side of the inlet. A couple of boats sailed up to Walpole itself to enjoy a coffee in town. Others didn’t sail and went with WOW Wilderness Eco Cruises on their pontoon boat tour of the inlet run by local Gary Muir. Gary is a natural entertainer and doesn’t stop talking; full of fun, stories about Walpole, the Nornalup inlet and the hinterland. Apart from the entertaining commentary, one of the highlights was the excellent view of a female White breasted sea eagle called Anna, perched on a tree near Sealers Cove.

On later on Friday afternoon, we were able to register and collect the race instructions, course maps (printed on water proof paper!) and our race number ID stickers to place on each side of the bows of our boats. Walking back along the beach from the registration, I saw that Whimbrel’s crew were standing knee deep in the water making adjustments to the boats rigging. Ordinarily I would have ignored whatever they were up to however, their guilty looking body language made me pause and look closer. Quite clearly a trapeze was being added to Whimbrel’s rigging! In the evening we again ate in town having booked a table for 12 at the Thai Café. During the meal an explanation was demanded from Whimbrel’s crew regarding their rigging modifications. Many around the table noted that adding a trapeze to an OGA C Fleet boat is border line unethical if not illegal! However, Peter won the ongoing argument by pointing out that the modification was in fact a ‘social distancing device’, making Whimbrel Covid compliant. This explanation was greeted with laughter and the modification grudgingly accepted.

Shenanigans on Whimbrel

Later back at the campsite we congregated at Andrew, Michaels and Peters campsite for nightcaps and a pleasant debate about which of the three Goat Island skiffs was going to win (sadly we had been told that Billy Goat the 4th skiff would not be coming). These boats ‘aka’ grey goat, green goat and white goat, were clearly quite a competitive group, this became clearer the next day. No pressure Michael!

Saturday morning started slowly with a light wind from the SE, however the weather forecast for the day promised more wind than Friday, with a possibility 18-20 knots later in the afternoon.

Saturday mornings’ briefing

By 12 noon most of us had left the beach and were out on the inlet mixing it with the numerous Optimist’s, Mirror dinghies, Lasers, in fact 19 different classes of boat spread over 9 Divisions! So, it was pretty busy on the water! The enthusiasm of the younger sailors was infectious and the adrenaline was pumping by the time the start sequence commenced.

It has been said many times, the professionalism of the regatta organisation and the way it is organised and run must be almost unique. At the pointy end, three (very experienced) men in a small boat could be heard on the radio calmly and efficiently giving directions to unseen marshal boats to lay two separate courses in a sometimes shifty unstable wind. However, not long after the scheduled start time the ‘on station’ signal flag was raised, followed by the first of 9 separate but back to back starts. Fortunately, there were no General Recalls.

Manning the start boat was John Rosser – Principal Race Officer, with his Boat Frankie from Nornalup, Mark Fitzharding – Racing Consultant (he organised divisions and start sequences/times) and Steve Ward.

Race 1 was sailed in a light and shifty wind, probably around 10-12 knots. All too soon this was over and we were waiting for the Division 9 boats to start before the whole start sequence began again.

Goat Island skiffs everywhere!

Race 2 was in stronger winds probably around 12-15 knots and Race 3 was raced in much stronger conditions with gusts probably nearer 18-20 knots. Certainly, on Kailani we were very happy to be three up, even so we dipped the gunwale a few times and had to dump the main as the stronger gusts came through.

OGA Fleet start

The WOW pontoon boat was out on the inlet with spectators on board including our own Pauline. Gary’s enthusiastic commentary was helped by Pauline’s more detailed knowledge as the OGA fleet sailed past.

Race 3 Saturday afternoon!

By 4.30pm we had finished and headed back to Coal Mine Beach for the day. The OGA contingent had booked another large table, this time at the Philippines Magic Café. The family run restaurant turned out some excellent food with good sized portions for sailors with a hearty appetite. The restaurant was really busy; however, the slight delay didn’t matter to us as we were very happy talking about the days racing and various misdemeanours and near misses with Opi’s and other boats. The conversations were washed down with a range of interesting and tasty nautical themed beers from the Wilson Brewery in Albany.

There’s a message in there!

The restaurant owners 12 year son was our waiter and did an excellent job, he never spilt a thing as he handed over the large bowls of food. The owner chatted to us several times through the evening explaining how difficult it was to run a restaurant in Walpole with the Covid restrictions and a very variable visitor number through the year. Not helped by not having any European backpackers looking for wait staff work, hence his son had been pressed into helping!

On Sunday morning with the earlier start to racing, time went quickly and we were all off the beach and sailing by 9.30am. There wasn’t a lot of wind and what wind there was, was shifting all over the place. The postponement flag was raised on the beach and start boat, so we passed the time slowly sailing around the start area. The Opi’ kids created a large raft and entertained themselves jumping into the water from the various club RIB’s. By around 10.15am the wind filled in enough to get Sunday’s racing started.

Sunday morning waiting for the wind

Race 4 was sailed in sunny conditions with around 10-12 knots of wind from the SSE, as ever the wind had large shifts in it.

Race 5 was in a stronger breeze of around 15-17 knots again quite shifty, but great sailing!

All too soon the regatta was finished, and it was time to sail back to the beach, have a quick lunch before derigging and recovering our boats. There was quite a queue at the boat ramp and most of us finished de-rigging in the upper car park.

Because of the Covid restrictions the prize giving was held in the open air area where the regatta registration took place. This was very convenient being close to the campsite and worked really well. The organisers had laid out lots of tables and chairs where we were able to gather in our division groups and enjoy a relaxing drink and reflect on the days sailing. The organisers had also set up a couple of BBQ’s on which we all took turns to cook our food. After a few speeches of thanks to the organisers and start crew (very loud applause) the presentations started with each sailing division requested to assemble in turn in one of the marques at the back of the assembly area to receive their flags for each race. When all divisions had been presented the overall regatta results were announced and were again presented in the marque. So, hearty congratulations to Wayne Wright in Warragul for taking 1st place in the OGA division, with Paul Day in Waltzing Matilda in 2nd place and Craig Nylund in Eggs and Ham (aka green goat) well done to all!

The regatta organisers had kindly agreed to permit the OGA run a silent auction for the beautifully restored Ed Davis designed ketch rigged Dory. The idea behind the silent auction was to raise funds for the OGA and the Fremantle Biennale. The OGA had become involved with the dory helping make the boat sailable again after many years in storage in time to take part in the Biennale to take part in one of their on water events the previous month.

The boat whose design was heavily influenced by the famous Swampscott dory designs of Maine, had been lovingly restored by Jim Black and John Longley. Peter Kovesi had also worked miracles with the sails to remove the Biennale inspired artwork. Steve Ward had towed the boat down to Walpole, so there were many helpers and moving parts in this great project! The silent auction was won by a sailor who had put in a bid to get the auction moving, and privately admitted that he didn’t really need the boat. About five minutes after the auction result had been announced another bidder stepped forward and explained that he thought the auction was going to be a live one and he really wanted to buy the boat for his son. Some fast footwork by OGA members saw an agreement reached between the silent auction winner and new bidder, which resulted in Roy Mitchel being declared the new owner of the dory, a great outcome for everyone!

The Dory

Pauline produced her trump card and capped off everything by placing a bottle of port on the table with a set of small tumblers for everyone in the OGA fleet. We enthusiastically drank a toast to Pauline and to each other. The port certainly hit the spot, and eased the stress of the silent auction! This was a lovely way to complete the day, thank you Pauline.

It was a quieter, smaller and tireder group that assembled around the campsite that night, some OGA members had left already. It was unanimously agreed that everyone had really enjoyed the sailing. The mix of a lovely setting, good camping, great company and the format of lots of shorter races was a winning combination!

On Monday morning after an early outbreak of misty rain (just to ensure our tents were wet!) we packed up and started heading home. Peter Kovesi took one last look at the Nornalup Inlet and spotted a lone Optimist out on the water getting in a ‘one more last sail’ before the long journey home. Judging by the enthusiasm shown by the younger sailors in the Opi and Mirror fleets one can only assume that the future of sailing as a sport in WA is secure.

Looking back at the regatta, I can say for myself that the format and setting was perfect, having lots of short races is a great way (to try) to improve starting line skills, knowledge of the rules and boat handling in varying conditions (ie, don’t hit other boats, rights of way at the start and overlaps at marks to name a few!). Maybe a rules clinic at a General Meeting this winter is in order?

A big shout out for the regatta organisers and their multiple supporters. We are already looking forward to next year’s regatta and hopefully many more to come. Please spread the word and encourage others to come along next year. If you do want to attend we strongly suggest that you book a campsite or accommodation now, as everything gets booked out.

Photograph credits to Andrew Bochenek, Shane Paull of DRO-PHO Photography, and Sarah Walker, Tessa Pickett, Cindy Simpson, and myself, see all the excellent photographs at Walpole Yacht Club

Final placings

Winners Gallery + Movie

Waltzing Matilda
Eggs and Ham