67th V S Australian Championships hosted by Port Hunter 16’ Skiff Club

Firestorm, Ol' Yella & Range power up wind - 67th VS Australian Championship Port Hunter
Wendy Hodda
The 67th V S Australian Championships were hosted by the Port Hunter 16’ Skiff Club (Newcastle, NSW).

On Monday 2nd January the Invitation Sprint and four heats were completed in 20+ knots, the NE flood tide providing great skiff racing conditions.

The Invitation series saw 10 skiffs face the starter for the knock series with all skiffs getting two starts on the windward return course and elimination till three finalists sailed off for the silver ware.

In the strong breeze boat handling and skiffs were tested in the excellent planning conditions up and down hill in flat water. The usual suspects were out in front in the early heats, Firestorm, Range, Ol’ Yella finding their way from the start/finish line at the Dockyard to the top pin off Horseshoe Beach inside 15 minutes with a speedpuck recording 20 knots on the kite runs. Early attrition, Wobbygong, Wildtrack and retirements, Rapid Fire, Stowe Australia, leaving SFC Computers, ADD 123 and the 3 low markers to finish off. The 2 heavier crewed skiffs Firestorm first, Range second & Ol’ Yella third de briefing the lads on how to put on an extra 30 kg of trapeze weight over night for the same breeze predicted tomorrow.

SFC Computers with Hughie Dodds in the bow checking a local out - 67th VS Australian Championship Port Hunter
Wendy Hodda

Tuesday 3rd - Heats 1 and 2.
With the forecast of a stronger NE’er the rigging area was a little more subdued. Many crews were either repairing boats or looking for older sails. At the start the breeze blew as predicted. Three laps with a downwind finish was considered by the committee to be enough. Add a few shipping movements and by the end of the two heats I’m sure everyone agreed.

Heat 1 saw Range jump away to a handy lead, followed by Firestorm and Ol’Yella.

A little further back the attrition began. Rapid Fire, having lead off the start, had a big swim on the first run and ended up with a DNF. Stowe also had a big swim, when the rudder broke at full pace while under spinnaker, throwing the crew through the mainsail. End of the heat. Measurement Solutions also DNF’ed, when their rudder box collapsed. Add123 also suffered a breakage, a boom vang, but battled on the finish seventh.

Wobbygong was seen swimming once or twice but carried on well to get sixth. Tim, Jason and Hugh just keep getting better on SFC Computers and, whilst not in their favoured wind range, sailed well for fifth. Purple Headed Warrrior, having their first run in the VS for the season, found their old form to get a good fourth from a sometimes swimming Ol’Yella in third. Swimming seemed to be the order of the day as an off-form Firestorm had a dip after finally hitting the lead, leaving Range to take an easy victory. They were in superb form all day and thus easily took out the handicap victory from Wobbygong and Firestorm.

Whilst the shipping in heat 1 inconvenienced only a few, the shipping in heat 2 was a little different. The breeze backed off to only 20 knots as most of the entries lined up again for the starter. Firestorm, Range and Ol’Yella again made their way to the front of the fleet, again joined by Purple Headed Warrior and SFC Computers. The rest of the fleet battled around with the occasional swim, leading to a few retirements. Range also suffered a D1 breakage, not only knocking their speed around but also knocking a few holes in the deck.

Firestorm avoided the shipping to get the win from Range. The rest of the fleet had to contend with a fleet of tugs down the last run which PHW negotiated the best to get a close third from Ol’Yella whilst SFC got trapped on the Stockton bank and had to flag a kite and wait until finishing fifth. Meika, introducing another local crew to the class, continued to get to grips with Rapid Fire to finish sixth whilst Stowe showed good spirit, throwing a replacement main and rudder on the boat to start and finish seventh. On handicap the old adage 'good things come to those that wait' rang true, with SFC getting the gong.

Wednesday 4th - Heats 3 and 4.
With boat repairs again filling the morning & predicted sea breezes of up to 30 knots the crews were starting to sweat this morning. But it was more likely due to the light westerly and burning sun than fear in this fleet!! (What black nor’easter?) Fortunately a light NE’er kicked just as the course was being laid.

All eleven boats lined up for heat 3, with close racing the order of the day. After many tacks & gybes to avoid not only the other VS’s but also the dredge, barge, tugs & coal ships all eleven boats finished, with less than nine minutes separating the fleet. Firestorm, Range and PHW had a great battle all day, each having a fair share of the lead until finally Firestorm got the gun from Range and PHW. Ol’Yella and SFC were within striking distance but could do no better than fourth and fifth respectively.

The Fokes boys had a good race in Stowe to get sixth on scratch, which also got them the handicap victory from SFC and Ol’Yella.

With the same 5-8 knot breeze blowing heat 4 also had a full compliment of starters. Once again a close start and race ensued, with the occasional tug and big ship trying to help mix the places up. Range suffered a broken vang early on to put them back in the fleet a little, allowing Firestorm & PHW to get a little lead that they would battle over for the rest of the race. A big ship threatened to spoil their party but they quickly scampered away from it leaving the rest of the fleet to deal with the 228m long roadblock. Firestorm eventually got a break to get the victory from PHW with range recovering for third. Ol’Yella again claimed fourth but at this stage the consistency award must go to SFC Computers, who again finished fifth (they have finished nowhere else!).

The gap up front allowed Mick, Dev and Janine to get the handicap victory for PHW from Stowe and Rapid Fire.

Range down wind in full flight - 67th VS Australian Championship Port Hunter
Wendy Hodda

ADD 123 Michael Northam returns to the class on his home ground - 67th VS Australian Championship Port Hunter
Wendy Hodda

Range pressured up - 67th VS Australian Championship Port Hunter
Wendy Hodda

Purple Headed Warrior Michael Turton with Janine in the bow & Dev on sheet - 67th VS Australian Championship Port Hunter
Wendy Hodda

Port Hunter 16ft Skiff Club website