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America's Cup skipper John Bertrand wins Australian Etchells title

by Etchells Australian Championship 2011 Media on 15 Jan 2011
Triad crew (L to R) Grant Simmer Andrew Palfrey and John Bertrand currently lead the 2011 Rex Gorell Prestige Etchells Australian Championship Etchells Media
John Bertrand, current Etchells World Champion successfully defended his Australian title today with the help of crew, Grant Simmer (bow) and Andrew 'Dog' Palfrey (mid boat).

Bertrand who won the America's Cup for Australia in 1983 has been sailing Etchells since 1990 after joining the One Design class, which had been his America's Cup arch-rival Denis Connor's favourite class for a long time.

John Bertrand explained dockside ‘After we won the Cup in 1983, I did not really go near a sail boat for seven years. Then two good friends of mine, Ernie Lawrence and Bill Browne got me into Etchells in 1990 and we raced in the Etchells Worlds of 1993 in Perth and I’ve been in the class ever since.

'Although this is my fifth Australian Championship win, it’s only in the last three years that I’ve gotten serious about getting organised.

'I’m in the fortunate position of being able to ask some pretty good sailors if they’d like to sail with me. Andrew Palfrey has joined me and we’ve had Ben Ainslie, (Triple Olympic Gold Medallist) and then for the last year Tom Slingsby (2010 ISAF Sailor of the Year and triple Laser World Champion) sailing with us. We won the last Australian Championships, then the World titles in Ireland.

‘To sail again with Grant Simmer (Australia II Navigator 1983) was terrific because he's been in sailing management roles for quite a while.

‘Last time we sailed together after 1983 was in the America's Cup Jubilee in Cowes (England) in 2001 and to catch up with him was quite a blast. In between racing we talked a lot about the America's Cup, he has done I think nine America's Cups.'

Report from the Final Day

After days of rain, brilliant sunshine and light breezes greeted competitors on the final day of the Rex Gorell Prestige Etchells Australian Championship, being sailed from the Royal Geelong Yacht Club.

Bertrand and his Triad team of Andrew Palfrey and Grant Simmer led into the final day but with the big one design fleet set to sail at least one further race, the Championship was still in play.

PRO Greg Sinclair set the course at 250, in middle of the Bay towards Corio Quay.

Race 7 started at 11.00am but the start resulted in a general recall. The Race Committee then gunned the fleet away at 11:15 on a two lap course, with a 1.6 miles first leg length followed by one mile thereafter, out to the west sou-west on Corio Bay.

Cameron Miles (Are We There Yet?) chose the Committee boat end of the line and headed right. Championship leader John Bertrand (Triad) started mid line and was soon the most left of the right hand boats. Damien King (Barry) started close to the pin and came across to join Bertrand.

The boats on the far right at the start looked to be in trouble as the fleet headed up the course to the first mark, in quite shifty conditions.

At the top mark, the Committee boat signalled a new heading at 290.

The boats that sailed along the refinery shore from the mid right were doing well and Hong Kong sailor Mark Thornburrow (Racer X 923) led the fleet round. Graeme Talylor (Magpie) and Cameron Miles (Are We There Yet?) closely followed. Next came Jervis Tilly (Bushfire), Graeme Alexander (Smile and Wave) and Doug Williams (Vertigo). Sixth was Gary Boyd (B Squared), then Ian Johnson (Bananas in Pyjamas), Tom Braidwood (Bad Doll) and Ian Crisp (That’s Life).

John Bertrand (Triad) was 14th, with Mark Bulka (Perfect Balance) Bertrand’s nearest rival for the championship title, further back in the pack. Damien King (Barry) was also well back.

The breeze was at eight knots and lifting as the fleet started their run to bottom mark.

Towards the bottom mark Bertrand looked to have lost considerable ground against title rival Bulka, who was at least six to eight places ahead of him.

The championship appeared wide open.

With the breeze oscillating up and down, the fluky conditions were testing the skills of the Etchells fleet.

At the top mark, which was set close in towards the shore, Graeme Taylor on Magpie was leading until they de-powered when their headsail came down about one metre. Before the crew could recover, Jervis Tilly (Bushfire) sailed through them. Magpie rounded in second, followed by Gordon Hinds (Grand V), Doug Williams (Vertigo), Cameron Miles (Are We There Yet?), John Savage (Black Knight) and Graeme Alexander (Smile and Wave).

The wind shifted left during the first half of the second run, then went back right, then came hard in from the left.

Jervis Tilly (Bushfire) drifted across the finish line in the old breeze while Mark Thornburrow (Racer X 923) brought up the new pressure.

Third across was Graeme Taylor (Magpie), then Cameron Miles (Are We There Yet?), Mark Bulka (Perfect Balance) fifth, Gary Boyd (B Squared) and Doug Williams (Vertigo). Tom Braidwood (Bad Doll) was eighth, Geelong sailor Brendan Garner (The Moe Szyslak Experience) ninth and Gordon Hinds (Grand V) tenth.

Series leader John Bertrand (Triad) finished 12th.

After Race 7 the Overall Progressive score was John Bertrand (Triad) 34 points, leading Mark Bulka (Perfect Balance) 36 points, Mark Thornburrow (Racer X 923) 37, Graeme Taylor (Magpie) 44, Noel Drennan (Jack's Hut) and Gary Boyd (B Squared) 51, Damien King (Barry) 54.

Bertrand also led the Masters and the Grand Masters Divisions of the Australian Championship.

The Rex Gorell Prestige Etchells Australian Championship Sailing Instructions state that the last race of the final day must commence by 2.00pm. The Race Committee set a course for Race 8 of the series and waited for the breeze to build. Instead it dropped as the fleet waited patiently in the brilliant sunshine out on Corio Bay.

At 13.55 with no breeze and the deadline fast approaching, the Committee had no option but to raise the N over A, sound three toots and abandon racing.

Results are provisional*
Full Results at

Dockside Quotes

John Bertrand commented ‘We went into today’s racing well placed. The race was difficult, we rounded top ten and then lost about ten places as boats came in from the other side of the course. We got back, we passed a lot of boats on the final run and that delivered us the regatta.’

Grant Simmer too was happy and just a little relieved. ‘The breeze was very shifty and up and down for the last four races especially. As it was my job to call the breeze and make the tactical decisions it was quite stressful at times.

‘We were not so good after the start a few times and we managed to get back into the races.

‘John and Dog (Andrew Palfrey) were very patient with me but they were definitely sending me a message when one day during the week they left to come to the Yacht Club and shut up the house and put the alarm on, and left me inside. I had to phone them and get them to come back and get me, so that is how important I was' he laughed.

‘Luckily when you sail with the Dog you don’t have to think much, he tells you what to do all the time, which is good. Overall it was a great experience and lots of fun.’

Andrew Palfrey had a huge grin. ‘A busy week. I had to look after a couple of old age pensioners, doing my bit for society - you know giving a bit back.

'Seriously it was a really rewarding experience sailing with John and Grant, we just got better all the time.’

Mark Bulka and his Perfect Balance crew, Glenn Ashby and Stewart Nichols, sailed a good series to finish second behind Bertrand.

Bulka said ‘We were nine points behind John Bertrand and his Triad team at the start of the day, and we clawed back seven points and came in second overall.

‘In today’s race we went up the middle for a while on the first beat, then I made a call for the left and that went pear shaped and we went round the mark 30-40 and John was well ahead of us, so we figured game over.

‘But he gybed on the inside, we kept going and got a really nice breeze down the right and we got back into 15th, chipped away on the next beat into the top ten and then had another good run to finish fifth.

‘We were starting to have a good time; when you are 40th you think this is no fun, but when you are in the top ten that is pretty good fun.

‘We were disappointed the PRO was not able to get that last race in. It really would have been an all out war.

‘It was obvious the Race Committee was trying hard, but it was very shifty and they just ran out of time.

‘Not a bad hit out for the 2004 Australian Champions, with this lightass (Glenn Ashby) on the bow again. We will do it again.’

Glenn Ashby, one of the leading multihull sailors in the world, was part of Mark’s Australian Champion 2004 Etchells crew and was onboard with Bulka again this week.

Waiting for the haul out crane Glenn commented ‘Really enjoyed the change of pace this week.

'Last week I sailed at the A Cat Nationals (he won) and next week I will be sailing at the F18 National titles with Dean Barker (the Team New Zealand America's Cup skipper).

‘The interesting thing is that Etchells, with such a high quality fleet and with such close boat on boat racing, gives you time to really think about what you are doing, look at what works and what does not in terms of making course decisions and this really refreshes the multihull decision making processes.

‘Because you are travelling very fast through the pressure and the shifts, its all split second on multihulls.

‘Cross training really works - a week on the Etchells and I am really refreshed.’

Now it remains to be seen if good mates Tom Slingsby and Glenn Ashby can persuade Nathan Outteridge (the new Moth World Champion and 49er World Champion) that he needs to sail an Etchells at the 2012 Worlds in Sydney!!

Congratulations to all the competitors, the Geelong Etchells Championship Organising Committee and to the Royal Geelong Yacht Club for an excellent 2011 Australian Etchells Championship.

The 2012 Australian Etchells Championship will be held at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron on Sydney Harbour, ahead of the 2012 Etchells World Championship.
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