SB20 national title - Local skipper tuned up

Robert Jeffreys at the 2013 Worlds
Katie Jackson
The Australian SB20 fleet is preparing for its national title on the eastern side of Victoria’s Port Phillip, and one skipper is definitely battle ready.

Over the past year, Melbourne based Stephen Fries has contested the 2012 SB20 worlds at Hamilton Island, the SB20 worlds at Hyeres in the south of France last month and the Melges 24 World Championship on San Francisco Bay this month. In a fortnight’s time Fries will be back on the water at his host club for the Brighton BMW SB20 National Championship, October 25th – 27th.

Fries led the best placed Antipodean team at the recent SB20 Worlds, finishing 36th from the busy 90-strong one design fleet.

Two weeks later he met up with Australian skipper David Bull at the Melges 24 Worlds in San Francisco, finishing 42nd with Bull’s Jester 4. Fries is due back this week for a short stint at the office before roping in some crew for his nationals tilt.

Not many can take extended periods of time off work like Fries, who runs his own engineering firm. This means his biggest first world problem is keeping the same crew together as he lines up for back-to-back national and world titles.

On his chances at the upcoming Aussies Fries says, 'The racing side of things puts me in good condition to compete, but the lack of training with a steady crew will show up in close situations or when it is heavy air. I will have to see who I can get to race with me, and how windy the regatta is.'’

He’ll be easy to spot among the fleet racing off SYC with his crazy curly hair that reportedly adds 4-6 inches to his height when it’s standing on end.

Fries started sailing at 11 years old in his dad's Heron. His father helped him build his first boat, a Sailfish, before the pair moved onto constructing Stephen a Flying Ant followed by three Cherub dinghies. As a teenager Fries raced these boats on weekends and competed in most state and national championships and as he graduated to adulthood his zest for competition only strengthened.

More than three decades of competing at the highest level, including 13 years of national and international Contender racing, eventually took their toll and in 2005 Fries’ hip and knees wore out, forcing him to hang up his sailing gloves.

He underwent more than 14 operations and now carries bits of plastic and metal in both knees and a replaced right hip, but was able to return to the sport in 2007 as a coach, attaining national qualification and coaching the Sandringham Yacht Club’s (SYC) youth program for a couple of years.

In 2009 he bought his first SB20 and then later a second one he keeps in Italy for the Northern Hemisphere regattas.

'The size of the SB20 makes it manageable for a large range of people,' says Fries. 'It’s a cost effective sportsboat with a strong following in Australia and especially worldwide, attracting up to 100 entrants at European worlds.'

At least one family member is truly supportive of dad’s passion, 20 year-old daughter Jess who sails with Fries regularly out of SYC and will be counted as crew for the looming Brighton BMW nationals.

Stephen Fries at worlds in France
Katie Jackson

Australian class president, Robert Jeffreys, also contested the world championship at Hyeres where he and his crew enjoyed valuable match practice against a strong international fleet. Fresh winds sorted the field out pretty quickly with gear breakages and crew injuries scuttling the final points tally. Jeffreys was beset with challenges aboard his SB20 Red, missing two days of competition and as a result of successive injuries rotating through three different for’ard hands over five days.

Of the 14 entries so far for the three-day Brighton BMW SB20 National Championship to be hosted by SYC October 25th – 27th, Tasmania and Victoria are both despatching an army of six teams apiece, making the southern states the most active of the Australian class. Jeffreys is expecting a few more entries to bring up a total of 15 or 16 SB20s.

With the dominant defending national champion Glenn Bourke electing not to protect his crown, the fleet has been handed an opportunity to raise a new champion aloft.

Victoria and Tasmania might dominate the starter’s list but north of the border Sydney’s Ian Brown has gathered a formidable crew of talented 470 sailors to mount a serious challenge. Brothers Alexander and Patrick Conway, second best among the Australians results at the recent worlds in France, and the fourth best 470 Aussie skipper, Scott Cotton, will pull the strings. Brown’s no slouch either; his credentials include Olympic 470 bronze medallist and Olympic coach, Moth world champion and top four in the world in numerous classes.

Series sponsor Brighton BMW has awarded the use of a brand new car to three lucky interstate teams, to help them navigate to the host club and around the Bay area. The draw was a clean sweep for the apple isle with three Tassie crews announced as winners; Peter Jones (Andthen), Scott Brain, (Brainwave) and Nick Rogers (Karabos).

'The lucky three winners will enjoy an ultimate driving machine for a weekend of BMW sheer driving pleasure,' said Sean Evans, sales manager of Brighton BMW.

Thursday 24th October has been set aside for registration and boat and crew weigh-ins. Racing will commence on Port Phillip on Friday October 25th with the first warning signal at 10.45am. Up to 12 windward/leeward races may be sailed over three days.
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