The 2014 Great Annual Waikato Seagull Regatta
story by Adrian Pawson
photos ex Nina Wells (Working Edge Pictures)
I make no excuses for the length of this post, its such a great yarn it needs to be told. Read about Adrian Pawson & James Ledingham’s challenge to win the great Seagull race.
Grab a cup of what ever your poison is & enjoy 🙂 Alan H
The 2014 running of the ‘Great Annual Seagull Regatta’ was once again able to start at the base of the Karapiro hydro dam this year thanks to higher water levels and a helping hand from cyclone Lucy. At first light the keen regulars milled around in the dark waiting for the nod to proceed to the start area. Not having much in the way of patience, Team Paris with our trusty carbon fibre creation held above our heads, jumped the fence and trundled our way down the metal dam track to the starting area to secure the pole position on the dam beach.
The first day’s task consists of a 45Nm jaunt starting at the base of Karapiro hydro dam, battling through a series of rapids, then through picturesque canopy covered viaducts, leading into a fast and furious left hander into Leamington pool on the outskirts of Cambridge. From there we howl our way down through Hamilton, Ngarawahia Taupiri, Huntly, Ohinewai and under the Rangiriri bridge finish line to post our first days effort on the regatta time sheet,
Our start was scheduled for 9:30am, half an hour after the 4.5 dinghy class. Our division start was knocked back half an hour while a few of the old boys finished up mixing their final choice of 2 stroke brew and the mandatory pre-race cuppa’s. Come 9:55am, and having completed a couple of nervous pre-race leaks into the nearby bushes, were all on the water and circling with the current waiting for the lights to go out signalling the start of the race. As you can imagine, at the base of the dam air movement is at a minimal. Normally this wouldn’t cause much of a problem. However 15 seagulls burning 10:1 2 stroke and running rich on low revs, can produce a significant quality of smoke! The environmental situation 30 seconds out from the gun was starting to look like a bad day in Beijing with greatly reduced visibility! When the flag finally dropped and 15 tiny carburettors were finally allowed to open wide, the exact direction of the dam exit was in some debate. Some of us got it right and some were not so lucky! But for the moment Team Paris was looking good and we shot off towards the first set of rapids in the lead.
Much to our surprise we were pulling away from our fellow seadogs and all our hard work and testing seemed to be paying off. We sped around bends and navigated the rapids leaving a majestic trail of blue smoke in our wake. We hugged the river banks and rock walls for maximum current benefit and for the moment our performance was looking quite spectacular! We had long ago lost sight of our competitors by the time howled our way under the first Hamilton bridge. Even more pleasing was that we could smell the sweet exhaust fumes of the 4.5 dinghy division ahead and knew that we were catching them quickly. We were drunk on our sense of self satisfaction, and with the knowledge that our beloved Paris Hilton Mk2 was clearly a weapon, we were all smiles as we tucked into our packed lunches and took time waved to the well-wishers on the river banks.
Three hours had elapsed as we passed under the second Hamilton bridge, but a quick glance at the taco revealed that we had lost 100rpm. This is normal we told ourselves. The motor was running hot and maybe some tolerance issues had come into play. A seagull usually doesn’t run at 5000rpm, and for us some drop off was acceptable. We assured ourselves that we were still fast. 10 minutes later we lost another 100rpm. Our smug smiles quickly faded and we realised we could be developing a problem on the good ship Paris….. Half an hour later we had bled 1000rpm and the relationship between crew members had descended into short bursts of 4 letter words with periodic apportionments of who might be to blame for this catastrophic short coming.
Paris was shaking like an F&P washing machine from 1980’s. Our seagull was not in a happy place at all. It was obvious that we had terminal gearbox problems. A quick call to our support team and a frenzied exchange of lat and long data revealed our position and proximity to a public road. Our best option was 3 km away. We were down to 1500rpm and our hopes of a record breaking finish were going up in smoke – literally! Then our trusty 1971 seagull ground to a halt and the shaking and grinding was replaced with a terrible silence. We were moving gently downstream but for all racing purposes we were stationary.
We knew we were sitting on a very healthy lead and the call was made to start paddling. We took turns as we had a bit of distance to cover and maximum stamina was required to get us to our rendezvous waypoint, and to our much treasured spare engine. We paddled for 30 mins and that river bank couldn’t come soon enough. I finally jumped out to navigate the willows with the road in sight. I had to get over one of those annoying electric horse fences and through a paddock to the highway. I had horse shit on my wetsuit boots and I was knacked from paddling. But I made it to the side of the highway. A couple of seconds past and I could see the Southern Spars transit van and our now very valuable spare engine coming towards me.
Doors were flung open and with hands on spare motor I was re-energized. We were back in business. Across the field, over the bastard horse fence, through the willows and back into Paris. James had the stuffed 1st motor off already and the spare was on route to the transom. In the process of swapping over fuel lines we lost half a litre of fuel into the boat. The cockpit of Paris now took on the traction characteristics of a stinking and highly flamable ice rink. As with every low budget program we had only one ‘nice’ prop, so that came off the 1st engine with the intention of being slid cleanly onto the spare motor. It went on about 5mm and stopped. (I decided that I wasn’t into taking the blame so poor ol’ James wore it) …….F@#* James, did you ream the bush for the spare engine shaft…..? I can’t believe you didn’t ream the bush. That was your only job this morning! F@#*! Hammering with vice grips got us down another 2mm but that was a waste of time. I slid around and wrestled with the prop in this stinking pool of 2 stroke fuel that now shushed around in Paris’s cockpit. My nice 2010 Oracle leggings were covered in oil and I imagined the waterproof lining peeling off like had happened to my Aigle during a similar situation testing. My leggings were probably now rooted. Apart from the Oracle logo I really like those leggings. I wasn’t about to part with $400 for a new pair either. Then from behind came the competition. They had finally caught up with us. Somehow the prop went on but not before I cut my hands on the precision sharpened leading edges. So with blood and oil on our fancy North 3DL tool bags and a couple of frantic pulls on the starter cord, we were off!
5 mins later the spare engine died. I also tried to blame this on James but he wasn’t wearing it this time….. We elected to go to the river bank. We could see another road and we knew a rescue was on the cards if we couldn’t come up with a plan C. We decided that our best option was to gamble that the 1st engine power head was still ok and our terminal problem was confined to the gearbox. So off comes the gearbox on the spare engine and she was mated onto the 1st engine. This took 20 mins meaning the competition was well down the track before we were back on the river and moving.
We were back at 4800rpm and chasing hard. We knew were faster than the sea dogs but we had a lot of work to do. The decision was made to ignore the overwhelming petrol smell and lie down in the boat in the name of reduced windage. We were flying along at a respectable 12 knots as the calming effects of the fumes went some way to restoring the friendship between James and I after that unfortunate blaming episode. But we were back in the race and it was game on.
By the time we made the Rangariri bridge we were only 15 mins behind the leaders, and knowing that we had a significant speed advantage, the race was far from over! Tomorrow we would take the fight back to the seadogs and our pride would be restored. But right now there was work to be done. We had a bit on to clean Paris and have her back in race trim for tomorrow.
Upon disassembly of the 1st engine gearbox we found a pile of gear teeth in the bottom of the case and a distinct absence of oil. Seems like 3 hours was all it took to empty a full box worth into the river. When the oil was gone the countdown to self-destruction started…… Our experience in the garage back home taught us that it’s normal for a seagull drops its guts over the period of a few days, but 3 hours wasn’t quite right. Oh well, we were running a pretty loose setup. Maybe the spare box was better. We filled that one up and got stuck into the beers. Tomorrow was to be another day.
to be continued tomorrow on ww ……
To add a little bit of perspective to the above – read below Adrian Pawsons notes
My partner Nina and I are in the process of cutting together a documentary leading up to and then centring around the 30th Waikato seagull regatta. Fortunately Nina is a professional film maker, so the end result will hopefully be a high quality 90 minute feature length doco aimed at a spot in the NZ international film festival. We not eligible for any kind of funding, so we’ve had to take a ‘just do it’ approach and pay our own way. But we think it’s a film than needs to be made. An event like this attracts some very eccentric characters, so content isn’t a problem. However we did need a first time team to complete the cross section, so against all better judgement, James and I became it. James and I know a little bit about sailing boats but this was our first crack at anything with a motor, so it was bound to be a shambles worthy of filming. We both work at Southern Spars so we quietly built Paris in one corner of the workshop hoping that by the time the ridicule and jeering got too bad we’d be just about done. Aside from our own struggles to get one over the seasoned campaigners (who we affectionately refer to as the seadogs) we’ve spent the last year driving all over the country filming these fellas in their secret seagull tuning sheds. The film will follow 6 seadogs their individual quirks and their various challenges just to make the start line.
The real shame is that we can’t show any video material prior to the film festival as any stray footage will void our entry. At last count we’re about 60mins deep and our 6 seadogs have been pure gold so far! They’re hilarious, but at the same time exceptionally crafty old roosters that typify the ‘Burt Munro’ type attitude towards life. So fingers crossed we nail the last 30 mins from this year’s race footage and end up with something nice to do them justice.