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Tough women sail Etchells

by John Curnow on 2 Mar 2013
Lining up in the driving rain are Vicky Weeks, Christine Short, Kate Beasley, Antonia Fong and Jeanne-Claude Strong. - 2013 Etchells NSW Championship Kylie Wilson Positive Image
One of the most interesting elements to be seen at the 2013 Etchells NSW State Championship is how many women have taken to this premier one design class. Whether helming such as Jeanne-Claude Strong and Vicky Weeks, or crewing like Christine Short and Antonia Fong, they are present on five vessels from the 33-boat fleet.

Standing in front of what seem to be very apt pink markers with Christine Short, Vicky Weeks to discuss this point, you quickly find out that their token male for the regatta is James Turner, who has been given the name Jemima for the duration of the series.

Christine is a local Cronulla resident and accomplished ocean sailor as well. 'Yes it is good to be involved with Etchells and I think it is really great for women too. They’re not easy boats to sail, but we’re up to it. We have sailed as an all-female crew before, but brought ‘Jemima’ with us for this one.'

'Local knowledge will come in to it, but I’m also sure that a lot of the top sailors here understand it too, however. There is a lot of tough competition here and they’re not mugs', said Christine.

Vicky added, 'We’ve been sailing for a while and then Christine and I decided to make the plunge. We enjoy sailing together and thought it was time to grab an Etchells and not only have a go, but really keep the fun aspect to it all, as well'

James said of his adventures with Christine and Vicky, 'There is good competition in the Etchells and at regattas like this. This should be good fun and I really enjoy sailing with the girls.'


Esteemed Etchells sailor (2004 World Champion) and newly elected class Governor, Peter ‘Polly’ McNeill, commented, 'It’s my second term, although this time I was elected, as opposed to appointed. I have been involved with the board for the last two years and we hope to continue to expand the class, get fleet numbers up and develop the talent sailing these great craft. As you can see here, women are really taking to Etchells and this is a wonderful thing to witness.'

'I have not sailed Etchells since Mooloolaba in the middle of last year. We are off to Italy for the Etchells World Championship in June. David Gleadhill and I have bought an identical vessel to our one here from Dan O’Grady, who will also sail with us if Simon Refold cannot make it.'

'To date, I have sailed every Mooloolabamid-winters bar one and so it will really be interesting to see if someone can finally take the phantom double and win more than just one of these really great regattas. The numbers are certainly stacking up for someone to do it, so good luck to them.'

'Moving forward to the Etchells Australian Championship in November on the Gold Coast, the team up there are right on to it, so we are keen and will be there', said McNeill.

At 1000hrs the Answering Pennant went down ashore, which was met by a lot of cheer and activity by the land bound sailors. Principal Race Officer, Andrew McLachlan, said, 'We are going racing. The waves are quite big and the course is a little shorter than we’d maybe like, but we have a minimum of 90 minutes from now to get the first race underway.'

At the time, the thought was that should they get all three races for the day completed then there would be a lot of very tired and wet sailors around. The first race of the day was to see who would be first away from the quay. Matt Chew and crew on Gen XY achieved that, so the question was then raised as to whether they would get the first of the Nautica watches as their prize.

Elsewhere on the dock, Tony Ellis, the 47 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race veteran, commented as he headed out for his first big Etchells regatta, 'Feels a bit like preparing to head out for a Hobart, based on these conditions. If I was in a 52-footer I know I’d be a bit happier. I have been sailing the Etchells with Mike and David Thackray for a couple of years and really enjoying it.'

Heading out to watch at about 1100hrs, we were greeted by the first returnee, which was local boat, No Mercy. Mainsail issues appeared to be the problem for them and it would have been hard to watch the last of the fleet head straight past them and on to the racecourse.

Animal House went in at 1141hrs for repairs and thence to return back to the track. At the same stage, both the Committee and pin end vessels tried yet again to lay and hold anchor. They had four attempts already, within the last 20 minutes at least. Anchoring up in near Jibbon Beach, all the Etchells appeared in the vicinity too.

An axis of 155 degrees was nominated and a course of over 1nm was well and truly possible. As mentioned, the challenge was to come with getting the Committee Boat to hold on station at the start line. The Race Committee was certainly trying to make it happen and it was clear that all concerned would be having a hard time.


Also not having a great time of it was, The Good The Bad The Ugly, which ended up on the rocks, just metres from the beach. At their first attempt being towed they came off, but were then blown straight back on and landed directly on their keel. Another crew used the intervening time to do a MOB drill in a marvellous show of ingenuity.


The inevitable occurred at 1215hrs, when racing was officially abandoned for the day. It is such a shame that the 2013 Etchells NSW State Championship has had to contend with this type of weather. Almost as to rub salt into the wound, when returning from racing having been abandoned, a savage little squall from the East arrived to make mooring even more challenging and give the crews and their gear a fresh water rinse.

Many thanks to all the volunteers from the Cronulla Sailing Club and the sponsors, Nautica, Tooheys, Powerade and North Sails. Our appreciation also goes to Reg Dolden for providing his glorious Halvorsen as a viewing platform. With the weather haying in, as opposed to abating as was felt earlier, the sailors, race management and all those volunteers will need to be tough to get through three races from early tomorrow. We do hope Hughie, the God of Wind, sees this and allows for a 2013 Etchells NSW Champion to be decided on Sunday. See etchells.org.au for more information.


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