International Dragons – The winner is?

John Curnow ©
The real winner on Thursday, January 13, at the 2011 International Dragon World Championships was the weather. It managed to provide a consistent breeze of 5 to around 15 knots in the end, from the Eastern quadrant. The other group very much worthy of praise were Race Management along with the many officials and volunteers who made the two races on different courses possible and endured significant amounts of rain in the process.

It all started at 1.05, when the signal vessel, Tarni, indicated she was on station and the course, just South of Brighton on Melbourne’s Port Phillip, was also going to be 105. Degrees, that is. The rain had eased and the wind had settled too. At 1.10pm, the Answering Pennant came down and we were on. Clearly, the journalists and photographers on the media boat were not the only ones ready for some action, for when the start finally came at about 1.20pm, most of the fleet was over the line. The necessary general recall was used to reset the line to a new course of 100 degrees in a 5 to 8 knot breeze originating out of the East Sou’east.

A black flag indicated the committee would not tolerate another mass over the line before the start and at a quarter to two a clean start got away. It was slow over at the boat end and Nick Rogers from Tasmania got the best start down at the newly favoured pin end. The right hand side and middle blitzed for the first work to the top and by the time they got there it was the Danes who had done more than enough. Interestingly, this was a new Danish crew making a feature of themselves. Frank Berg, Soren Holm and Soren Kestel on My Way were certainly doing it their way and went on to win the first race of the day by around three minutes.

Russia’s Zenith was second around the mark with series leaders, Bunker Queen in third. Nick Rogers and crew on Karabos IX, was fourth there after their great start. Unlike earlier races, only a few crews chose to go for the gybe set. The lead group had certainly got away well and the fleet separation continued. By the time they got back to the bottom of the course, My Way were stretching their lead, but another Tasmanian entry, Ridgeway had got in to second place, with Zenith now in third and Karabos IX remaining in fourth. Spinnakers were another key aspect of the racing and some refused to go back in to the their holds in the bows on the vessels, without some additional massaging. On Scot Plamer’s New Zealand entry, Kotoku, they didn’t resolve it quickly enough and the Dragon’s ultra pointy bow made short work of slicing straight through the fine cloth.

Returning to the top again, My Way stayed out in front, Zenith returned to second spot and Scoundrel, from Western Australia, jumped in to third place. The ever consistent and reliable Bunker Queen was still there with a top ten spot. A lot of vessels used the left side of the course, which in turn meant they had to come back through the Starboard tackers with no rights. On public vessel did not even consider the rights of the racers and went through the leaders, pushing on in the direction of Melbourne. Thankfully, no one suffered too badly, despite the vessel casting a significant wind shadow. The polished German crew aboard Sinewave were involved with the Ukrainian crew on Bunker Prince in an issue when the latter tried to gybe set on top of the Germans after the rounding.

It was a genuine 10 knots from 100 degrees by now and had been true to that direction for the entire race. The race was shortened to finish at the bottom and as we went down past the fleet, it was clear that they were now spread out over at least two thirds of the leg. My Way finished with daylight well and truly in second. The winners by a true country mile did high fives all round and despite a small language barrier, they did repeat several times how ‘Great’ it was.

Indeed the whole finish was very spectacular with groups of up to six boats all arriving on the finish line within inches of each other. It was a very colourful way to finish, especially given how grey it was out there in the rain and all. Taking second place was Russia’s Zenith with Tasmania’s Karabos IX getting third. The very enthusiastic and animated crew on Scoundrel from West Australia were also in the top ten, but the crews at or near the top of the overall leader board were definitely in the top ten. Bunker Queen was fourth and Lawrie Smith’s Alfie was ninth.
The course for race five was moved North, back in front of Royal Brighton Yacht Club and at 4pm the official vessels were on station with a course of 095 degrees in about a 10 knot breeze. At about a quarter past four the start sequence commenced and the high levels of competitiveness ensured a general recall was going to occur. Time for the Black Flag to be brought out again. Unlike the first race of the day, where Indulgence from Australia was forced to sit the race out, no one had to endure that particular fate.

There was a steady light rain settling in, with a 10 to 12 knots blowing and the start at half past four was jam packed at the Committee Boat end. ‘No Room’ was the call of the day as crews clambered for position. With everyone looking to maximise the advantages the right seemed to offer, Scoundrel was the first to head out that way. A couple more followed and then most went back, clearly aiming to capitalise on a middle course and not push the edges of the course too far. The rain remained at the ‘pesty’ level with 8 to 10 knots originating from about 100 degrees.

There was a really big stack of the fleet on Port, coming in to the top mark for the first time. Sweden’s Ming got there first with My Way taking second and the Prince Philip Cup winners from last week, African Queen, getting third position at the rounding. There were some great names appearing in the top ten, but one in particular deserves a mention. Montana from Germany is the current Corinthian (all amateur) leaders and they were in sixth place.

Coming up beside the Committee Boat at the bottom mark, we learned that the second race would run the full five legs, with Principal Race Officer, Kevin Wilson, saying with a smile, ‘Can’t make it too easy for them!’ The Danes on African Queen would arrive first, the Sinewave and Ming in third. Other championship hopefuls occupied a lot of the other positions in the top ten. There were a couple of protest flags flying on vessels; Denmark’s Quicksilver III and Russia’s, I Feel Good. There is nothing outstanding as a result of the day’s racing, so all is well.

Indeed with the breeze gaining a bit of strength and the rounding marks absolutely crowded, there was always going to be a fair amount of argy-bargy as crews looked for advantages. Some spinnakers caused issues as well, especially aboard Australia’s Puff.

By the top, the German crew on Sinewave had taken over first position, which they would then not relinquish for the remainder of the race. My Way was second and Ming took third. Russia’s Olga White had to take two sterns as she approached on Port tack, which meant she ended up with fifth around the mark. There were a few taking on the gybe set and go back through the bulk of the fleet, now arriving on Port tack to join the queue going in to the mark.

Sinewave crew, once back on shore. - Dragon World Championships
John Curnow ©

The bottom mark for the last time on the day was a lot cleaner than the previous one, no doubt due to increasing separation in the fleet. As a result, there were no real surprises on the board as they went around. Germany’s crew on Fiasco recovered their spinnaker from under the boat and continued on, which added some colour to the equation.
At the top and only metres from the host club, Sinewave won comfortably, with My Way in second and Ming in third. Sinewave’s skipper, former World Champion, Tommy Müller was, ‘Delighted to work our way to the top and stay there to get the win. It is so competitive out there’, which is a sentiment endorsed by many around the quay as they pack up from a hard day’s racing. Crewmen Michael Lipp and Vincent Hoesch then added, ‘We didn’t win the first half, so the pressure is on to take out the second!’

In a day that kind of belonged to the Danes and the Corinthian leaders it is important to remind everyone that the 2011 International Dragon World Championships end this Saturday, January 16. After the last race there is a gala dinner at the Brighton International. At that time, in addition to the champions being crowned, the six regatta flags created for the event will be auctioned off for the Queensland Premier’s Appeal after the devastation that has been wreaked through the State recently and caused the amazing weather endured by the competitors in Melbourne. These wonderful and colourful flags feature all competing nations national flags.

Racing continues on Friday, now that the Answering Pennant looks like being lowered shortly. With many crews still able to make an impression on the leader board, it will remain very competitive. Indeed, places on the dais have been won and lost during the regatta with great regularity.

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Highest placed Australian crew - Scoundrel, who are in eighth place overall. - Dragon World Championships
John Curnow ©

The crew from Denmark's My Way crew were pretty happy about their day's efforts. - Dragon World Championships
John Curnow ©

Germany's Montana is leading the Corinthian charge. - Dragon World Championships
John Curnow ©

The Ocean Liner had had enough of the weather too - and departed. - Dragon World Championships
John Curnow ©

Fleet action going into the hitch mark - Dragon World Championships
John Curnow ©

Melbourne and most of Port Phillip is under this radar image. - Dragon World Championships
John Curnow ©