by John Curnow
John Curnow's interview with Kane Sinclair.
Etchells - Kane Sinclair
During the recent Thrifty 2011 NSW Etchells State Championships, I (John Curnow) got the opportunity to sit down with Lake Macquarie sailor, Kane Sinclair.
After a wonderfully consistent fourth, third and second place on Day One, he and crew of Todd Wyborn and Grahame Prosser were leading the race for the title, which was being conducted in rigorous conditions off Newcastle.
As one of the younger set in Etchells, it seemed prudent to find out why he was in Etchells, how he got there and of course, have a little look at Sydney and the Worlds in 2012. Kane is now 37 and it all began for him some 30 years ago. 'I started in Pelicans, Vaucluse Juniors (VJs) and then Cherubs', said Kane. In the latter class there was a World title in Perth and wins in both the State and National level with Andrew Hewson. It all occurred nearly 20 years ago when he was 18 or 19 years of age.
'Etchells are by far the leading class. They’re the name of the game and this is the elite level. The highest quality sailing is in the Etchells, especially around the cans. Lake Macquarie is my home club and great sailors of many classes come out of there. We have a strong Etchells fleet and Tom Woods is definitely a passionate captain. The depth at our club is an important feature. We have sailors who have gone through numerous classes, like Pelicans, VJs, 505s, Lasers and J24s, which I did when I was involved in the Cherubs. I did a bit of One Design sailing against the late Ian Bashford in those days', Kane explained.
'The 505 are a great OD dinghy class. Going back a bit, the people back in our era, who came in behind Woods, Ian Blatchford and co have now all joined in the Etchells, as our ages have caught up. There was also the Boyd brothers and we all went through Skiffs and did the 18 Footer circuit, too. Gary was with Chris Nicholson on his 18', said Sinclair. The latter, of course, is yet another great Lake sailor.
'In the last five years it’s been pretty much Etchells. Before that Andrew Hewson and I tried to do a 505 campaign for the Worlds off Adelaide, but we didn’t get the correct boat and it wasn’t our best effort. I’m 90kg, so I tend to be crew in the dinghies, as I’m that bit heavier. I’d do three or four years in skiffs and then about the same in 505s. Driving the Etchells over the last five years has been great.
One of the main reasons that I have enjoyed it so much is that we got so many of the group back together on the Lake. It’s regularly 14 boats doing battle and it’s always close. With those shifty Lake conditions, it gets us up to speed with our tactics. Offshore it’s a different story, so we’ll have to do some work off Swansea Heads, which is around an hour from the club, in the lead up to 2012.'
'With his wealth of experience, which includes the Volvo Ocean Race, Tom Braidwood has been getting us fired up for these NSW State titles. We’ve got six or seven boats aiming for the 2012 Worlds in Sydney and we know the conditions will be totally different. On the Saturday here, there was 12-16knots and a lumpy sea the best part of 2m, which is very different to flat water racing on the Lake. We’ve been struggling at times to hang in there off Newcastle and that’s why we need to do the offshore preparation, as we head in to Winter', said Kane.
Of course, any successful crew is just that, a crew made up of other sailors all combining with the driver to have the boat in the best places relative to the breeze, the opposition and the course. 'We’re a three man crew, and bang on weight. Up at the bow is Grahame Prosser, who’s another former 505 sailor. In fact I think he’s still got one in his shed.
Mid-boat is Todd Wyborn and I really hope we can hang on to him for the Worlds. He’s normally a Driver and he has a lot of Adams 10 experience on the Lake - a top three finisher in the Nationals, I think.
He’s great. Todd just feels what’s going on, due to all his experience and he relates to it easily, making adjustments without trouble. I can really talk with him', Kane said of his crew. Steering is kind of more than one-man job in a lot of ways, with the air rudder being a lot bigger than the water one, especially in an Etchells and that person has to have some good tactical advice, as well.
'Todd gives me a second opinion and he’s good with spotting the gains. It’s certainly not an easy class. You could think you’re in control, but you have to keep the helm light, the boat the moving and just concentrate on that, with the crew doing their thing and making the adjustments. You need to do it all without too much concern and keep ahead of the guys around you.
It really does come down to start. That’s true certainly in all One Design, but especially crucial in Etchells. We were consistent on the first day, because we got off the line and we might have looked good, but that was because we were in our own breeze most of the time, not with someone over and above us.'
By way of exemplifying that point, when I was speaking with a few sailors at the recent Dragon Worlds in Melbourne, who had sailed both classes, I asked why not being on the front line with the a Dragon was not as much of an issue. They felt that it was the fact that the Dragons with their genoa, not jib, is the big reason that being on the front line is not as crucial. The added acceleration of the Etchells, with their lighter weight, meant the gain was made quicker there and the added power of the genoa evened the Dragons out a bit.
At 37 years of age, Kane is a bit a younger than a lot of Etchells sailors. Given that it is a relatively affordable class to get in to, I asked Kane what he might say to those that might be evaluating or considering the Etchells class. 'The Etchells are good for you if you have a family and they trail around the country really well and they’re easy to rig. The people in the class are the best you are going to come across – approachable and helpful, no matter where you go. It’s also probably the hardest sailing I have ever experienced, as it’s always a challenge, which is exactly why you do it.
Cost wise it’s OK. My boat is 11 years old boat and it’s still competitive. You spend about $7-8,000 for a set of sails and maybe $30,000 for a boat you can go racing in from the outset.'
'Some newer boats are quicker than us, but with an on-weight crew of good sailors, you can mix it up pretty quickly. Just look at the people involved? You come across the likes of Bertrand, who I saw cross the line on TV when I was just 10 years old and then in 2009, I’m having coffee with him in Brighton at the Worlds. He’s now shown exactly what he can do with three Aussie titles and a World crown. John is over 60 and he’s the most serious now about his Etchells racing. It’s no wonder he gets great guys to sail with him', said Kane with more than a touch of admiration.
'Once an Etchells gets going, the boat can do a bit of the work for you, provided your boat management at start and your overall programme is right with your the crew work and weight. They are the world’s most strict One Design class and it is really true what is often said about quiet boats and crews who work together efficiently.
I felt 100% relaxed with the team onboard in this regatta. Knowing each other’s jobs and your own makes concentrating on my thing a lot easier. For example, we had calls about slipping in behind boats and avoiding infringement position, surfing waves and gybing in before someone. You cannot do that, without good understanding and clear appreciation of everyone’s abilities. It’s a level of professionalism and Bertrand is probably the best in the class about it. There’d be another 10 as per John, with a further 20, just after them.'
'We finished in tenth place at the 2010 Nationals held at Lake Macquarie. I did not go to Geelong, although at one stage I was going with Polly (Peter McNeill) in the bow. At this regatta, he came to talk with me, which was really good, as I am always in to him looking for tips. You see, that is the class, you can still talk about it ashore', said a smiling Sinclair.
The three Victorian crews that were top five in Ireland last year all talked about consistency being one of their main aims. Coming off the back of that discussion, Kane said. 'It was totally what we’re looking for. You must be off the line well or you simply kiss the regatta goodbye.'
That all lead Kane to talk about Ken Read, whom he obviously has more than a high regard for and he recalls key elements after watching a video about him. 'He was a gun in J24s sort of 15 years ago and he had a good year with the Etchells in 2003', said Kane of the six time J24 World Champ.
'He was trying to have ultimate boat speed off the start line. From then on, all their preparation of polishing the boat, their crew work and how they sailed together naturally fell in to place by their results, once they got clear ahead. They sailed to their natural ability, because they were in their own clear air, out of the pack. Once you’re in the pack, it is so hard to be the consistent, as they are really all the same sort of pace.
This is what those crews you just mentioned are talking about. It’s very close off the start line. You have to get that extra half a boat length here and there. Miss a few waves or get tanked by someone, have a collision and it turns in to a bad day, very quickly.'
Everyone is amicable, happy, helpful and relaxed in the Etchells environment, yet it is a focus on detail scenario. It is not just show up, get the boat off the back and go yachting. There is a specific plan involved. 'From the outside, you may not get to see that. The plan and focus is the driving force. It would take me around four pages to set up a plan to win a worlds, from training a year out, to getting the right the right boat with sails for the conditions, the many choices of jibs, the list just goes on. The good guys are on one page, but then they have a huge natural ability that they are drawing on', said Kane.
'We’re going for top ten at Sydney next year. We’ve matured since Lake Macquarie and we always set realistic goals. We wanted top ten there and we got that. Sydney will be a bit harder for us to get the same kind of preparation as other sailors whose home waters have waves. The seaway was hard work here. That and the slop that was around', Kane commented. Interestingly, on the Sunday there was no racing for the Etchells and down in Sydney, the Farr 40s were kept inside the Harbour for their heats on the day.
'For 2012, we’re going to pick right sails, get the waves sorted out with a lot of offshore sailing, which will also get our bodies attuned to the different way you use your muscles and hold yourself, whilst sailing in open water. Maintenance on the boat everyday and prior to the regatta will be another thing we’ll concentrate on, as you have to have a vessel that is bullet proof. Other than that, we want to be relaxed in our decision making out there, so we don’t end up on the second row at the gun', Kane offered by way of emphasising again the start as the key to success.
'One Design is the best sailing I have ever done and where I want to stay. Usually I spend three or four years in a class and then move on or back to something else, but Etchells are a 10-year plan. It’s an addictive class - you try to avoid the bumps and bruises a bit, get around smoothly and in your own breeze. Just wonderful.'
The mention of the bumps and bruises was a good segue in to asking if all that helming of dinghies for years, when he was young, helped with the pre-starts. 'Tiller and power up in trough, de-power on top, so yes, background is handy.' Peter McNeill sat next to Kane as the interview wound up, so it is not surprising that Kane mentions some of the other Young Guns like Gary Boyd, Mark Langford and Tom Braidwood, before mentioning that there were five older skippers who could get the big win next year.
'Seriously, though, they’re the most difficult boat to win in. It’s a challenge and it’s there for us to walk away with the trophy some day - with Doyle/PM sails, of course. If Polly can do it, then Sinkers can. Confidence will help and you need a good overall package. There really are quite a few in Australia that can win the Worlds. It will all depend on how their regatta luck goes, their preparation and the wind will be the ultimate arbiter', Kane said, paying homage to Huey.