It was mixed fortunes for several highly-rated title contenders who were expected to lead the fleet through much of the Zhik Etchells National Championship.
Errors on the start line, shifty breezes and erroneous tactical calls cost some skippers any chance of a top ten finish while for others they are likely to miss out on a podium place.
'It was tough out there today and there are a lot more tricky races to go. A few good guys have come a cropper with a black flag. Often it doesn’t get the good guys, but this case it has. With their drops they could be right back in there,' series leader Julian Plante said at the completion of racing today.
These mixed fortunes have however opened the door to another group of very talented light air skippers and crews.
After a poor 17th place yesterday, Julian Plante’s Two Speed crew delivered a sixth and a third today to move up to first place overall.
Sydney’s David Clark holds on with his fingers tips to a podium place in finishing second overall at the end of day while Melbourne’s John Savage and dual Etchells World Champion, John Savage moves up into third.
However, the Zhik national title battle is far from over. There are still another five races to go, a race to be dropped and more light air on the way.
Early this morning Clark was coy about how his team would go in the predicted light airs. 'We need to work a lot on our light air speed. Today will be good practice for the Worlds,' Clark said. He is right about that having finished 16th in race two and 10th in race three of the series.
The fleet didn’t have to wait long this afternoon for the first race start. Just after 1200 hours, the breeze settled at 120 degrees at six knots for a 1.5 mile work to the top mark, twice around. All was looking good with the mid and pin end of the line favoured, but then several of the players got jumpy pushing up their opponents across the start line and into a general recall.
PRO Stephen Merrington then let the fleet know there would be no waiting around with the new start set up quickly and the call made 'going black immediately'. The AP was down at 1230 hours and the real drama began.
Four boats were called BFD - bows 43 (Magpie, Graeme Taylor), 63 (The Rat, Grantham Kitto), 49 (Incentive, James McPhail) and 10 (Velsheda, Alastair Gair).
As the fleet slipped up the first work, the body language on board Magpie was the stuff of dreams for sport psychologists with Taylor, Grant Simmer and Steve Jarvin clearly trying to understand their mistake. A quick quip from Taylor of, 'whoops' and 's..t happens' was the only response that could be raised from the boat.
Back on the course and Triad (John Bertrand) was off to the right with Roulette (Jud Smith) following. The breeze swung to 115 degrees and softened to five knots. The left seem to favour the brave as the breeze continued shifting.
It was a change of course at the top mark as Southern Light (John Savage) and Grand V (Gordon Hinds) battled it out for first place, followed by British entry, Gelert (James Howells). Roulette was next then closely followed by Triad. Iron Lotus (Tom King) was about 11th around the top mark first time.
Grand V led two boats lengths from Southern Light while Iron Lotus started to crawl up the fleet into fourth place. It was slow going around the bottom mark with Roulette, Triad and Gen XY (Matthew Chew) working hard to hold boat speed.
On the work Roulettte tacked to port and headed out towards Grand V and Southern Light where they looked to be in a bit more pressure. At the top mark again and another course change with the breeze now at 90 degrees, Grand V was ahead, but Southern Light was right at his stern. Some friendly banter from Southern Light was heard as the teams set their spinnakers and headed towards the finish. Iron Lotus had finally found his pace moving up to third around the mark followed by Triad then Gen XY.
But it was the grand old lady, Grand V, built in 1981, up against a considerably newer boat in Southern Light. Right on the finish with five seconds difference, Southern Light got the gun, then Grand V, then a relieved Iron Lotus.
Savage said after the race, 'We sailed the angles and sailed the pressures, picking the angles perfectly. We told the boys (Hinds) that we wouldn’t attack them, but just sail the course.'
Hinds was very pleased with their second place. It was just a small shift in the last part of the race that got them. 'We missed the shift at the top mark the second time around which cost us the last leg and the race.'
The second race got away at 1440 hours with a clean start for all but three boats. The course was 60 degrees and the breeze a fairly decent seven knots. The sea remained relatively flat, but there was a thunderstorm building to the south-west.
On the start line Are We There Yet ? (Mark Richards), Tusk (Gary Smith) and Iris III (Peter McNeill) were all OCS and had to pay the price of re-starting in the soft conditions.
The fleet split evenly across the course area as the breeze continued to shift towards 40 degrees and build to 10 knots. Another course change at the top mark made the tacticians job just all the more harder. Swedish Blue (Ante Razmilovic) was first around the mark, followed by Odyssey (Peter Merrington) and Bushfire (Jervis Tilly).
Further back was a tight group of The Doctor (Mark Tonner Joyce), Chew, Clark, Vivienne (Rupert Henry), Anamchara (James McHugh), The Whole Way (Cameron Miles), Plante, Bertrand and Menace (Vince Brun).
By now a 'gun-shy' Magpie was also back in the fleet struggling to find his speed grove .
Another course change to 055 degrees didn’t impact greatly on the local Pittwater sailors Odyssey, as they continued to lead ahead of Gen XY and Swedish Blue. The breeze shifted and the thunderstorm sucked up some it as it continued to build and move north over the course area.
The top mark the second time round and Odyssey was looking safe in the lead with a large group of boats challenging for the next ten places.
But it was a confusing race track with not one side seeming to favour the fleet as they searched out the shifts.
'It was tricky. We didn’t get that good a start and then we sort of wanted to go left. We got there, just. Then we had to dig our way out with a quite a few tacks, got left and then the chips fell our way. We got around the top mark seventh or something and then gybed. They moved the bottom mark and a lot of people missed that. A few people kept going in towards the north east and then they had to reach back. We were one of the boats that gybed early. The breeze went a bit right and we were out there as well.
'Down the run it was anybody’s. There was probably six boats that were there and at one stage we thought we had it. Billy (Peter) Merrington did a good job. He gybed away and then came back on last little shift as it went back more to the south-east and nailed us.
The breeze was dying off close to the shore and fleet compressed. It was anybody’s race near the end so Billy did a good job to defend,' Plante said.
No doubt the PRO and father of line honours winner, Merrington, was smiling as he sounded the hooter for the finish. He was probably glad the hooter meant the end of a frustrating day of constant course changes.
Racing continues tomorrow with two races scheduled.
Top 20 overall after three races:
1 Julian Plante/Hannah Nattrass/Michael Dunstan/Nick Garland, Two Speed, RPAYC, AUS, 26 pts
2 David Clark/Alan Smith/Andrew Smith, Fifteen, CYCA, AUS, 27 pts
3 John Savage/Ben Morrison-Jack/Richard Allanson, Southern Light, RBYC, AUS, 29 pts
4 Jud Smith/Mark Johnson/Nikolas Burfoot, Roulette, RSYS, AUS, 31 pts
5 Matthew Chew/Adrian Finglas/Darren Jones/Paul Wyatt, Gen XY, RQYS, AUS, 37 pts
6 Thomas Braidwood/Ben Lamb/Matthew Rhys-Jones/Ty Marshall, Bad Doll, LMYC, AUS, 37 pts
7 Ante Razmilovic/Chris Larson/Stuart Flinn, Swedish Blue, RHKYC, HKG, 39 pts
8 Gordon Hinds/Adrian Dunphy/Stephen Ingate, Grand V, RPAYC, AUS, 47 pts
9 James McHugh/Andy Beadsworth/Pete McCormick, Anamchara, S NG, SUI, 51 pts
10 Ross Lloyd/Matthew Turner/Peter Dowdney, The Doctor, SYC/RBYC, AUS, 52 pts
11 Peter Merrington/Andrew Coates/Geoffrey Bonouvrie, Odyssey, RPAYC, AUS, 53 pts
12 Douglas McGain/Adrian Reed/Gary Adshead, Ciao, CYCA, AUS, 58 pts
13 Cameron Miles/David Sampson/Grant Crowle, The Hole Way, RPAYC, AUS, 59 pts
14 Christopher Hampton/Ian Johnson/Matthew Johns, Tango 1990, RBYC, AUS, 60 pts
15 Leonidas Christianakis/Fiona Christianakis/Robert Wilmot, Carabella IV, SIYC, USA, 61 pts
16 Mark Richards/Gary Smith/Matthew Mitchell, Are We There Yet?, RPAYC, AUS, 62 pts
17 James Howells/David Bedford/John Fisher, Gelert, RCYC, GBR, 67 pts
18 Mark Tonner-Joyce/Glen Gibson/John Cuthbert Collingwood, Dawn Raid, RBYC, AUS, 68 pts
19 John Bertrand/David Giles/Thomas Slingsby, Triad, RBYC, AUS, 75 pts
20 Mark Bulka/Ben Solly/Peter Milne, Perfect Balance, RBYC, AUS, 76 pts
The International Etchells 2012 Australian Championship is sponsored by Zhik, North Sails, Pacesetter Yachts, Protector Yachts and Wetton Signage Group.
Regatta results can be found on http://www.rpayc.com.au/championship/int-etchells-class-australian-championship