Well it just has to be a massive thank you. The Garmin Etchells NSW Championship owes a lot to the competitors, the volunteers, the Gosford Sailing Club and everyone has to thank Huey, the God of Wind, too. He may have been later than required and frustratingly so at that, but when he showed up in the middle of the afternoon, he delivered in spades. The best racing of the entire series was saved for the short, but oh-so-sweet last race. It had everything. Up to 22 knots of breeze from the South, plenty of rain, significantly reduced visibility, a short little chop and if you had your eyes out of the boat a little, some wonderful vistas with mist in the surrounding hills and even a spectacularly sunny patch over Gosford. Yes. You did have to be quick or you would miss that last one though.
The earlier schedule, with the first warning listed for 1055hrs, showed a lot of intent to get the full compliment of three races in for the day. Down at the Southern end of Brisbane Waters the Committee Vessel had 340˚ displayed and it was a genuine six knots blowing there, but maybe more like half that in and around the area of the top mark, which was adjacent to Point Clare. The boat adjusted itself a little, so as to ensure the axis of the course was true and the belief was that a start would get away on time. Hooray. Huey must have read yesterday’s report.
It certainly was a good day for ducks at Gosford on Sunday. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship - John Curnow ©
The right side would be favoured and just moments before the start, the Principal Race Officer went for the Answering Pennant, as the differing directions between top and bottom of the course meant it was no longer considered fair. It was the perfect opportunity for the Garmin speedboat to go up and tow the last Etchells down in time for the revised new course, which would get away at around 1114hrs. It was the hottest contested start to date and had everyone inspired, but the AP would be flown once more, moments after getting away.
At 1117hrs the AP went down for what would be the third attempt at Race Six. Code Flag U would be flown. This is an option for officials and allows for boats excluded at a start to be allowed back in, should it be a General Recall or go in to an AP. The breeze had softened to three knots by now at 355˚, yet it was fuller or more complete, if that makes sense to you. Six boats were On Course Side for this start, which meant they could no longer partake. Some of these were crews that needed to be racing to make their final assault on the leader board.
The left was the favoured side and No Star did make the best of it. You did not want to go too far, for the shoreline was treacherous, with no wind and deathly hollows. Around halfway up the just over 1nm track, those deathly hollows took over the whole course and this attempt at a race was abandoned at 1133hrs. This meant all those just excluded from Race Six only moments ago were now allowed back in.
At 1148hrs it was a whiteout with the rain increasing and one to three knots being observed at all locations in the area from Sydney to Norah Head, as well as on the course area, but with differing directions of origin. Half an hour later, the breeze would roll down off the hills at 310 and then to 270˚ at around seven knots and so the Committee Boat moved over to Green Point, in order to set the longest possible course over towards Koolewong. The other thing to note was that it was now very wet, which added to the whole ambience, but had you thinking more of mountain cabins, roaring fires, red wine, and far less about sailing.
255˚ was set for another two-lap race in four to seven knots of breeze when it tried, which would be enough to carry the Etchells the required one and a touch nautical miles. 1224hrs the sequence was commenced and then the becalmed call came from the top mark vessel. Ouch. Scrap another one and the whole of Brisbane Waters seemed to be immediately vacuumed of all wind. Time to wait and if it is your thing, pray that the joy beginning to show in the observations further South would make it here in time.
1328hrs the AP over 1 were hoisted, in a hope that what Sydney Airport and Harbour were experiencing could make it up in time before the 1500hrs cut-off. More than handful of boats made whatever progress they could towards the club, as the race for the crane to hoist all the boats out became the hot ticket. Those with a mission and who heeded Race Management’s calls, stayed out to get adjusted to the new and heavier breeze when it arrived. Changing gear if you will. Both wise and prudent, for at 1426hrs it was in at 11 knots already and boy, was it wet too!
This would mean the course was from adjacent Point Frederick to Saratoga, which is a large hill at the base of Brisbane Waters and has a massive effect on the wind in terms of channelling. 160˚ was set for another two-lap event and the rain was now being pushed in quite virulently. This would be a drag race off the line and you needed to ensure you could place your boat without concerns for the areas immediately off Point Frederick and the lee created by Saratoga.
Just after the start of the final race, which would decide the championship. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship - John Curnow ©
A dark line was evident about half way down the course as the five-minute prep signal sounded. Yes, it was bringing even more breeze and rain too, especially to the right hand side of the course, which was HB lead pencil grey, where as the left was almost Derwent white. 18 knots and over was on hand, which was a terrific juxtaposition when you considered all that been on offer over the previous two days. This championship would be decided in breezes four to five times stronger than anything else seen during the regatta, and that seemed to be relished by the sailors.
PRO Peter Walsh went for Code Flag U immediately in this sequence, so as to signal the seriousness of his intent and ensure everyone played nicely. 1445hrs would be the start time and by now the slop had increased to ¾ of a metre, for Brisbane Waters is just five to six metres deep here. It would be a General Recall, so all the energy dissipated immediately, only to be required again very soon. Shame. It was a great start and by far, the best of the regatta to date, just everyone was peaking a little too much.
Walsh reminded everyone of the Code Flag U by radio, as it was very hard to see it in the heavy mist and rain. Clear start came over the radio, which made everyone happy, but probably no more so than those in the middle of the line, for this is where the main contenders had located themselves. The bulk of the fleet would head left and by the time they had made the top mark, the rain too had a moment off, as if to see for itself who had done well. Magpie would lead them, but had to work hard to get up to the hitch mark. Bootross with such a level of talent on board in Mark Bradford, Kyle Langford and Will McCarthy would take second, and then No Star, Iron Lotus and Critical Balance followed. It was terribly busy and everyone was close and came around up to four deep.
At the bottom gate for the first time, Iron Lotus, which is Tom King, David Edwards, Ivan Wheen and Owen McMahon had done well on the run to be in front. Racer X from Hong Kong, with Mark Thornburrow, Malcolm Page, Simon Cooke and Mike Huang sailing her took second from series leader, Magpie, then Critical Balance and No Star, with Ciao, who were in contention for the win prior to the start, after them. Overall, it was a fairly even split between the left and right gates.
It was happening quickly over the 0.9nm course and the Etchells were on a march, so back up at the top once more you saw Iron Lotus in front of Racer X, then Magpie and Critical Balance, with No Star, Bootross and then Ciao hanging in to the lead group. For the rest it was hard, wet, fast and furious. It was time to head to the finish as the Etchells planed down the run. Iron Lotus would win over Magpie, then Racer X, Critical Balance (Paul Garaty, Dean Blatchford and John Boyd), Umami (Matt Whitnall, Christian Brook and Anthony Elliott), No Star (Michael Coxon, Richie Allanson and Andrew Gavenlock. Short, sharp and very sweet - at 1526hrs the race was completed.
Tom King from Iron Lotus said, 'Nice and wet, but good that we could get a race in, however. It’s even better to see some real breeze and great to have the chance to blow the cobwebs out. We got into some pressure on that first run and secured a couple of shifts, which allowed us to press for the advantage. Not focussing too much on Newport today (Etchells Worlds in June, 2014). Rather, we were inspired by Anna Fenninger in the Super G last night at Sochi. We just had to honour that victory', said the Australian Gold Medallist of the freshly crowned Austrian Gold Medallist (very different disciplines, of course).
Also back on shore was a very happy PRO, Peter Walsh. 'Five straight results to count here, as Races Five and Six were abandoned. What a day. How do you describe moving all over the course area looking for the chance to run a race, rain and then a fresh 22knot Southerly? A testing day with patience the real key and nothing rash, but as you saw we really tried. Well done to my team for staying out there the whole time in all manner of conditions. We certainly did feel a little pressure to get that last one away before the time elapsed. As a club, we have really enjoyed running this regatta, which compliments all the other things we do.'
Regatta Chairman, Don Wilson said, 'Finishing it by saving the best to last was superb. The important thing was that we got through that first day with three races in the bag and that allowed us to work with what was to be served up yesterday and today. We did well to get the one race down yesterday and today was certainly not from a lack of trying, but all in all it is very pleasing and satisfying. The club has been terrific in supporting this event and we got a huge turnout, which has been noticed. Nothing was too much in terms of support and working with our calendar of racing and events.'
'A big thank you to the team of volunteers both on water and ashore. Also thanks to Garmin as naming rights sponsor and media vessel provider, as well as North Sails for the terrific prize', Wilson finished with.
Elsewhere in the boat park and keen to have the boat ready to travel back to Melbourne were Graeme Taylor, Steve Jarvin and Grant Simmer from Magpie. The new Etchells NSW State Champions were in a jovial mood and so very relaxed. Simmer commented, 'Well done to Race Management, for they waited and got the best race of the regatta away in a fresh, gusty and shifty breeze, despite its strength. We got off the line well and had to defend against Ciao, obviously. We ended up second and were pretty happy with that. There was some good racing throughout this tricky regatta and it would have been tough on any stretch of water. Happy to be here and had a lot of fun with some mates, so what could be better? Next Etchells outing for me could well be the Worlds with John Bertrand and Andrew Palfrey.'
Graeme Taylor said of the win and all, 'Thank you, it was great to get there and we have enjoyed ourselves. Yes, we are off to Metung for the Victorian State Championship from March Seventh and may see if Ben Morrison-Jack can step in for Grant. Haven’t sailed the boat for nine months, so to get this result makes us very happy. We went straight to a pretty heavy setting and were pretty organised when it did arrive, as we did have a job to do, after all. We needed to be away from the start quickly and then keep ahead of Ciao, so that was our sort of plan. Well done to the club and sponsor for a great regatta. It added to our enjoyment.' Speaking of Metung, you could well see Peter ‘Billy’ Merrington at that regatta, so there is still plenty of Etchells action to come this Summer.
In second place were last year’s champions, Doug McGain, Gary Adshead and Mike O’Brien on Ciao. Third went to Umami. Winning the coveted North Sails jib, which goes to the mid-fleet boat, was none other than sailing personality, Roger ‘Hicko’ Hickman. In accepting the prize he said, 'I would rather take the jib than the job', which is in reference to an earlier typo. 'This is a wonderful thing that North’s do. Such a pleasure and I have always wanted to get into the top half, so having this prize there is a terrific incentive. We’ll certainly put this to good use. I only got into Etchells about six years ago. The best of the best are in the Etchells class. I am in awe of the talent you race against when you come to these types of events. I love the class for that, the travelling to places like Gosford and also the camaraderie. It is very social.'
Roger Hickman receives his new jib from North Sails’, Andrew Gavenlock. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship - John Curnow © Click Here to view large photo
'Our day started really well. Garmin came and towed us down to the course, as we had really missed the designated departure time. They’re wonderful people and we’re lucky to have sponsors like that around events such as this. We hung in for the duration and got a buzz from that last race, so it was certainly worthwhile', said Hickman.
So the new champions have been crowned. There are other events to be upon us soon. See http://www.etchells.org.au
for all the information about this regatta, the next, or to investigate how you can be part of the One Design - Etchells.