Etchells National Championship - Top quality fleet

Roger Hickman’s sun Tzu (1088) in the thick of the fleet on day two of June’s Etchells Australasian Winter Championship.
Tracey Johnstone
In the Etchells National Championship, the 31-boat fleet are working through their way last minute key jobs before racing, being hosted by Southport Yacht Cub on the Gold Coast, starts tomorrow. All competitors are due to weigh-in and register during the day, before they head out for a practice race and shake-down session.

The mix of the sailors who have gathered at Southport Yacht Club for the Etchells event, again reinforces the strength of this 40-year-old class. Within that mix are a range of characters. Some of them have achieved broader community recognition, most recently through the 34th America’s Cup, and through Olympic Games representation, making their names recognisable. Some of those names are John Bertrand, Grant Simmer, Anthony Nossiter, Andrew Palfrey, Will McCarthy and Neville Wittey.

Then there are the other characters who are also high achievers, but whose names are not so readily bandied around by the sport media and non-sailor.

On the water there won’t be a lot of difference across this group. They will line up on the start line in their strict one-design Etchells and battle the eight-race national championship with as much vigour and talent as they can muster on the day.

For some the battle will also be about putting on hold their other sailing distractions to focus on the overall Etchells prize.

Roger Hickman is one skipper who will be ditching his ocean racing hat as he heads out from Southport Yacht Club for the Etchells event. Last weekend he completed the 180 mile Cabbage Tree Island Race with his 28-year-oild Wild Rose, taking out handicap honours for an impressive third Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Blue Water Pointscore race.

This morning he was then on the road to the Gold Coast, his Sun Tzu under tow, with his crew talking about the Etchells National Championship. 'The answer is we just love our sailing. The ocean racing is a different discipline.

'I love the challenge that the ocean and the weather gives you and then I love the challenge, the mastery, of a lot of the Etchells sailors. The top 10 or 20 Etchells I am just in awe of them. I love competing. Every now and then you might beat one or two of them.

Ethells Sun Tzu skipper, Roger Hickman, in his other role as skipper of Wild Rose at the Rolex Sydney Hobart media conference.

'The transition is easy. I have only just got back from the Dragon Worlds in Weymouth. My passion for the one-design is very real and the passion for the ocean racing is also very real,' Hickman said.

He will be racing with Kim Ketelbey, Dan Morrow and Antonia Fong, all of whom also sail on Wild Rose. Once the Etchells nationals are over, they will be back on the road to Sydney and refocused on their Wild Rose Hobart campaign.

For the 69-year-old Tony Ellis, he gets to enjoy the best of both small boat and big boat racing. This week he will be in the middle of Mike Thackray’s Sydney team, Trekka. Once the nationals are over he will quickly head back south to continue helping out with the preparations on Ragamuffin for this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, his 41st race south.

Ellis has no problems with the transition from the 100-foot Ragamuffin to Etchells racing. 'We campaign the boat really hard for a month or so at Christmas time and the other races. That suits me too. There’s no commitment to go every Saturday to sail offshore which I find can be a bit boring. In fact, I would rather sail on the Etchells on Saturday’s on the Harbour. They’re one-design and really good racing. I started sailing them about 30 years ago. I get to have the best of both worlds,' Ellis said.

The forecast for the eight-race series looks like it will be a tricky event with the weather models not agreeing as yet. Currently the breeze is still from the NNW and building. It is expected to stay that way for the first few days before softening and swinging to the south.

For more event information, go South Port Yacht Website