QLD Etchells – High quality. Hot competition. Happy times.
The quality of the weekend’s Queensland Etchells Championship was not only measured by those that showed up to race. There were former World and Australian Champions and Olympic Team Member, Jake Lilley, out on the water as testament to that. The yardstick for that quality was also evident in the sublime weather, terrific facilities of the Southport Yacht Club on the Gold Coast and the hot competition being engaged in, all the way from first to last place. A super racetrack out in front of the menagerie of high-rise that makes the place so identifiable, acted as the proverbial frosting on top of the cherry adorning the summit of the cake.
Undoubtedly all of this allowed for the happiest of times to be had, but there would be one quite magical, and dare we say it, spiritual element that truly capped off the regatta. The number of whales and their proximity to the racers meant that the 2015 Etchells Queensland State Championship would be one to remember for a long time.
The Saturday arrived and brought an 8-12knot Sou’easter along for the party. Two races had been planned for that day, but the ever vigilant and supremely wise Race Officers, Ross and Kevin Wilson, had a feeling Monday could be challenging. They would be proven to be 100% correct, with no racing to occur on the last day. So three, two-lap races got completed, with the Wilsons heard to saying the classic platitude, “Champagne sailing. So good we just had to go for the third!”
It was bunched in the first race, spread a little in second and then wider again in the last race when the breeze crumped a little towards the end. A super happy and effervescent Gold Coast Fleet Captain, Greg Forgan-Smith said afterwards, and proving that Etchells do have happy smiles at the back of the fleet, “It separated those that know a bit more from those still learning. We (with fellow Betelgeuse crew members Mike Austen and Bruce Pitt) started with a soft rig to suit the light conditions, but then when we tightened the rig we caught up. Got to say that we just loved the applause from the spectators on the entrance back in through the seaway. Everyone seemed to be out. There were countless Choppers, jet skis, parasailing boats and even a paraglider that were out enjoying it all.”
Brisbane Fleet Captain, Noel Paterson, was another to be singing praises. The energetic sailor brought, Waterloo Too, down from Brisbane with crew Sarah Board, Tim Robba and Brad Bell. They had a couple of podium finishes later on, but in a fleet of this quality you needed to string many together to be there at the end.
Talking before racing on the Sunday, he reflected, “Yes. The first two were done in 10s, with the last one in more like 5-6knots. Nice sailing on a glorious and sunny day. Presently we have a bit of a Northerly at 7-9knots, so the Answering Pennant may get an airing as we see exactly what settles in.”
“Certainly is a quality fleet and we are happy enough with our fourth, fifth and not so much the eighth place. Etchellence had a tough win in the last race, which is just terrific. David Clark (Etchells Governor) is looking solid, but it is close at the top. We have had a ball and really enjoying it. Starting was a bit of issue, but I wasn’t only skipper to have this problem!”
Notably for Etchellence, they would finish the regatta with the most improved award after a fourth overall on count back. Well done to Grant Hudson, Klous Lorenz, Ben Varcoe and Matt Parrott. They seem to be one of the ‘new’ Etchells breed climbing the tables with their eyes set firmly atop the standings.
The breeze did settle in on the second day, for it allowed another three races to be completed and it would eventually mean they had a cracking, six-race series all in the can. Afterwards, and having enjoyed the magical return back in from the Pacific Ocean track, Forgan-Smith said, “The breeze did come in – perhaps a bit stronger today, but truly perfect. The strongest gust was 15knots. We had the wrong headsail up, which was not so good. We had to over tighten the rig and ended up out the back, but we are still smiling. 29˚C and whales at the top mark with heaps of whale watching boats around meant we were not the only ones fortunate enough to be taking it all in. In terms of the racing it was certainly Peter ‘Polly’ McNeill’s day today. Well done to Iris III, which was crewed by McNeill, Josh Torpy and David Gleadhill.”
Certainly proving their immeasurable skill were the Wilson brothers, who got a great regatta in and had all singing their praises once more. Ross said of it all on the Sunday night, which would become the last day of racing, “Sensational. Beautiful. Breeze settled at about 015˚ and gave us 7.5knots for the first race, 10 for the second and then 11 for the third. We may not get a race in tomorrow (indeed the AP went up early and then racing was abandoned at 1500hrs on the third day with the fleet ashore), so happy to get the six completed.”
There is just one point between the first four boats, with Iris III, Fifteen+ and Ciao doing well. Tight at the top seems almost too light a comment… Don’t think any of them will be too happy to stay ashore tomorrow! There was a bit of whale action out there today, with one not that far from our start boat and then one also at the top mark. So it was entertainment all around”, said Wilson.
Ultimately the winner would be Iris III. Talking with ‘Polly’ on the last day whilst they all waited, he commented, “AP went up early as we have a high directly over the top of us. Interestingly, yesterday we almost did hit a whale and had another one right next to us on the other side!”
“We were going down one of the runs in beautiful conditions and had to bear away on the top of a wave. Lucky we did, for if we had not, we would have collected the whale! They were literally just three to four feet away and running with us. Looked to be Humpback whales with all the barnacles. One thing is for sure; we were out in front and did want to stop! And with something like that it would really have been STOP.”
McNeill added, “I’ve never experienced anything like it. It left me in complete awe and I might not ever experience it again. Perhaps that is why I am so cranky that I did not put the GoPro on board this morning. One screw was missing and so we left it behind. Doh! We’re seeing more whales than years ago, so the numbers must be growing, which is just fantastic.”
“The hot competition has certainly kept us on our toes and we’ll always be happy with any win. Well done to Doug McGain, Stuart Clark and Michael O’Brien on Ciao who were second place. Same too for Dave Clark, Mick Slinn, Mark Langford and Sean O’Rourke on Fifteen+ who were third overall – both crews really were pushing the whole time. We’re not off to Hong Kong to sail in the World Championship, but I am going in a mentoring role for Jan Muysken.
Another crew to have already sent their boat off to Hong Kong is Land Rat, which is crewed by John Warlow, Will Thompson and Mick Patrick. Skipper Warlow borrowed David Healey’s Rapscallion for the event, and said after it was all done, “We are still as keen as ever and with these sort of terrific conditions you would have to be happy. We’ll see those who are going in Hong Kong and then the others down in Melbourne for the Australian Championship in January.
So Etchells has always been about hot competition, whether you’re talking first and second, fourth and fifth, or 30 and 31st! Matt Ramaley, Tom Barker and Charles Kosecki on AUS1292 are a good case in point when talking about the attraction of Etchells. “I arrived in Australia over 10 years ago and sailed on AFR Midnight Rambler and then Victoire, which is where I met Tom and Charles. Matt Whitnall was the one who got me into Etchells and then Tom King said you have to get one and go travelling with it.
I bought one about 18 months ago and then refitted it, which took a good few months. Tom, Charles and I have been a crew for around 10 months and we’ve been at it pretty hard back in Sydney (they’re part of the fleet based at the CYCA). We made the decision at Easter last year to come and sail at firstly Mooloolaba, and then this Queensland State Championship. The guys from the Brisbane Fleet at Royal Queensland have been terrific to all of us Interstaters. On behalf of the NSW travellers, I would really like to thank Noel Paterson, David Healey and of course Greg Forgan-Smith here on the Gold Coast. Great hosts!!! The NSW fleet looks forward to returning that favour.”
“We are off to do the worlds in Hong Kong, with Shane Guanaria of Doyle Sails joining Tom and I. We will be down in Melbourne for the 2016 Australian Championship, so long as it does not interfere with Tom and his commitments for the Farr 40 Worlds.”
Ramaley finished by saying, “I would just like to say that the reason I got into the fleet, is that it shares the good oil with the new skippers and crew – you know, what makes a good boat and then trim and tactics. This really is more so than any other fleet I have ever sailed in around the World.”
So on that note there really is not a lot more to say, other than keep a good weather eye on etchells.org.au for the best info on the premier OD Class.
by John Curnow