by John Curnow
In the very year that Australia marks the passage of 30 years since a group of dedicated sailors changed the course of sporting history, and as celebrations for the Etchells 40th anniversary draw to an end, it seems terribly fitting that the two should be inexorably linked.
Men at Work, John Bertrand, Andrew Grant Simmer and Andrew Palfrey competing in last year’s Etchells National Championship in West Australia
The 2013-14 Australian Etchells Australian Champions are Australia II’s John ‘JB’ Bertrand AO and Grant ‘Grunter’ Simmer. The third crewmember, Andrew ‘Dog’ Palfrey is a tad younger, and like the rest of us, had to watch it all unfold on TV. This year’s title takes Bertrand’s personal tally to seven (and also one World Championship) in the class he fell in love with nearly twenty years ago. Talking of World Championships, this very crew are known to have a wee penchant for the 2014 title, which is to be staged in none other than Newport R.I., as if you could not have seen that coming…
The man himself commented, ‘Of the five Doggy and I have sailed together, we now have four titles and a second place. This regatta did have a set of consistent results, which is great. I’m going to keep one SMS on my iPhone, as it came from Tom (Slingsby). He said, ‘Awesome guys! That’s the most impressive scorecard I’ve ever seen in an Etchells Nationals. Really impressed. Well Done!’ What an accolade from our Olympic Gold Medallist’, said a truly humbled Bertrand.
‘We saw 9 to 18 knots over the course of the regatta, so it was really just medium to fresher. All in all, we enjoyed quintessential champagne conditions offshore of the Gold Coast. What was worth noting was how close it was not only at the top mark, but also the bottom and then the finish. All of us (JB, Grunter and Doggy) commented on the high level and refined racing that this regatta just kept on providing.’
‘One crew from lake Macquarie commented that all the bastards up front are World Champions, Olympians or America’s Cup veterans. For us the fleet sure was stacked with great talent and it was just awesome to be out there with terrific people to race against. Peter ‘Polly’ McNeill (former World Champion) has come from nowhere. What a great job to come back so strongly!’
Etchells National Championship 2013, Peter McNeill's Iris III to weather of John Bertrand's Triad - Etchells Australian Championship
‘We’re running a North Sails main and Doyle jibs, with a combination for our ‘chutes, as a result of having a look at what Jud Smith has been up to. This was our preparation for the 2014 Worlds – we’re all very keen to do it. My next regatta will be the Victorian State Championship at Metung (7 to 10 Mar 2014), which I think will be big and then Triad will be shipped off to Newport.’
‘The fleet may have been a bit smaller because of the time of year as we all head in to Christmas, but the decision to run it now was based on the weather. January and February can be a bit mushy and there are the conditions over the bar to look at. We were missing the likes of Graeme ‘GT’ Taylor and Tom Slingsby who could just not make it, but did not feel like it when you were racing out there. If it was January, it would have easily been 50+ Etchells.’
‘The boats may be classed as vintage, but there is still something in it. They are so refined in the tuning. We’re down to one turn on the lower and I have never been at that level of gradation between fast and slow. It was all about drag racing, boat speed and boat handling, not massive wind shifts. Seven knots uphill may not be huge, but it really is quite intense.’
‘Handling the swell and chop was where you got your refinement. You know, Rafa (Spanish Olympian, Rafael Trujillo Villar) loves the Etchells and he’s raced so many boats. You’re crossing others by 20 to 30 cm, which is just amazing. There are lots of yachting luminaries really looking at Etchells once more because of what they are. True One Design. It is a different world, but it contains the best there is on offer’, Bertrand finished by saying.
Another person very happy with the overall outcome is Etchells Class President, Jake Gunther. Catching up with him in the first light of day he commented, ‘At 0530hrs there is plenty to see. What a great location! This may well be the most under-utilised location we’ve ever seen for a World Championship. All you need to do is manage the time of year and the tides and away you go. Well done to the Southport Yacht Club, the Etchells Gold Coast Fleet, Race management and all those volunteers!’
‘Throughout the regatta everybody was gunning for the best spot possible. Where we all finish up is important in light of our goals for coming here in the first place. One of our main objectives is always to be the first of the non-pro, non-Olympian and non-World champ crews. We’ve had a third and fifth in previous World Championship campaigns and this particular fleet is something else. All our results are sort of sixth to ninth place, but there is something in understanding the track.’
The Boat skippered by Jake Gunther, out on the course today in the Etchells National Championship practice race.
‘We have been within a boat length of Mark Johnston for most of this, and he was on top after day one. My crew of John Collingwood, Stuart Skeggs and I do a lot of two-boating with David Clark and there is some serious talent on board there, as there was throughout the entire top end. Mark had Nik Burfoot and Rafa Trujilo Villar on board. Rafa has not only represented Spain at the Olympics (2000, 2004 and 2008), he medalled, too, with a Silver in the Finn at Athens. To get over the top of them on the last day is a delight and shows how in Etchells, every single place counts’, said Gunther.
The other and virtually as important prize on offer at the Etchells Australian Championship is the North Sails jib. This is awarded to the mid-fleet vessel and apart from anything else, acts as a sort of encouragement award. Winning this fantastic prize for 2013-14 is Jeanne-Claude Strong and the crew of Yandoo XX, which consists of Nev Whittey, Marcus Burke and Tiana Whittey. Strong said of the win, ‘Bit of a surprise and rather nice. We’ve been a Doyles boat to date. I was talking with Richie Allanson just before and we’re certainly happy to try this new medium job out - looking forward to trying something different!’
‘First is always the best, but there’s a 10th, 11th and 12th in amongst our results, which is a real credit to the crew. Can I tell you that this is a lovely location, with great people, awesome conditions. We’re just delighted to be here with such a wonderful collection of sailors’, Strong finished by saying.
So that’s it. The last bullet has been fired, so to speak, on another terrific Etchells Australian Championship. Whether you’re first or 31st, the challenge remains with you as a crew of sailors. To begin your Etchells journey, go to http://www.etchells.org.au/ and locate a fleet near you. One Design does not get better.
Triad's crew of John Bertrand, Andrew Palfrey and Grant Simmer - Rex Gorell Prestige Etchells Australian Championships 2011
Triad amigos, John Bertrand, Grant Simmer and Andrew Palfrey