It was not hard to end up feeling the love for the Garmin Etchells NSW Championship being run out of Gosford. Yes it was Valentines Day, but that was not the reason. In fact, as you walked around the quay this morning, you may have felt a tension. It was not unrequited and certainly not inappropriate in this PC world. It was not quite fear, either, although many a sailor was moved to comment on the heads that had shown up and the names associated with them.
Ultimately, you worked out it was adoration, both for the class that attracts a fleet of 39 to a State championship and also for the all of the volunteers and sailors who had made the effort to have this regatta be what it is.
One person very delighted with the turnout was International Etchells Governor and former Etchells World Champion, Peter ‘Polly’ McNeill. 'There is both quality and quantity assembled here at the Gosford Sailing Club (GSC) and it is wonderful to see the class going from strength to strength. The collection includes World Champions and Olympic Gold Medallists, with more than a fair smattering of the young crop here. You could say quite the collection, in fact.'
Of the America’s Cup type fraternity that was on hand, Polly said, 'It is both terrific and interesting to see that they’re happy to sail Etchells when they’re not tied up AC duties and the like. There are plenty of people that admire this class for the kinds of souls who come to race in it.'
The kinds of sailors Polly was referring to are Tom King, Will McCarthy, Christian Brook, Kyle Langford, Mark Bradford, Malcolm Page, Mark Langford and one Tom Slingsby, who did a cameo appearance for the day on Peter ‘Billy’ Merrington’s, Top 40.
There were a couple of new mainsails out on the racetrack today and so as a sail maker with Doyles, it was important to see what McNeill thought of this development. 'The radial cut clew is likely to offer more durability in this important part of the sail, time will tell. I went to a radial headsail a couple of years ago and it worked for me. There are new Dacron fabrics now and they offer better characteristics in the warp direction, so this makes the radial cut more of an option, so I could well be tempted to try it out myself.'
GSC Commodore, Paul Gulliksen, welcomed all the sailors before the briefing. Opening the club to all competitors and their families, he said, 'Thank you to all the competitors, but especially those who have travelled from overseas and interstate to be here. I hope you enjoy some fabulous sailing throughout the regatta. I would also like to commend the Organising Committee for their commitment and determination in ensuring that this event will run smoothly. I would also like to thank Jason Browne and Garmin for their support and the sensational, Quatix watches that will be presented as prizes to the winners.'
Jason was not only on hand to support Garmin, for whom he is the National Sales Manager, he also provided and drove the media vessel. This wonderful runabout has all the best that Garmin has to offer, including touch screen, pincer finger control, multi-display units, but also some yet to be released equipment. One of the things you can obtain right now is the chartplotter with elevated view. It is much like what you can get from Garmin’s automotive products, indeed that is where the technology came from, but in a marine environment it is incredible how well it helps you completely understand your track. That you can drive it all from your Quatix watch is also very handy. 'This is event is close to my heart as an Etchells sailor. We have our new watches, with tack lay lines, give you not only time for the start but also distance and course information if you have plugged in the GPS coordinates and then VMG and lay lines are all possible. Our new sailing instruments have just hit the market in recent times, too. So Garmin in not just aeronautical, automotive, geocaching and personal fitness equipment, in addition to marine and all of our very popular fishing apparatus.'
Now by the time everyone departed the quay at the top of the picturesque Brisbane Waters, the clouds were potentially ominous and the wind was light and from the Nor’noreast. Looked a lot like the challenging conditions everyone had been told to expect. Out on the racetrack it would be prove to be so, especially in the first race of the day. Now some had a book running on how many attempts at a clean start a fleet of this nature would take. When it all happened it was hard to believe that the fleet was at least two lengths behind.
Marching off on a course of 000˚ at a little over a nautical mile in a just five-knot (average) breeze seemed pretty normal. Even the division of the fleet to left and right hand components was somewhat de rigueur, too. What did seem a little interesting was that two local boats were not back behind the line from a little jaunt upwind to avail themselves of the conditions when it all got underway. Ivy and Turn’erOn would get underway a few minutes late, much like detained children making morning assembly eventually.
Part of the fleet works through the moorings on Brisbane Waters. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship - John Curnow ©
At the pin end of the line, Pointless and No Star stood out, with The Boat and Seawings, also in the mix. The left would be favoured overall as they went in towards Point Clare. If you were left of centre you did well, with anyone exploring the corners taking to long to come out from behind the point. Moving through the moorings and private piers that line this Western shore, it was kind of magical. It did get lighter once more as they all tried to make the top mark and progress was often challenging with only 300m left to cover. Both sides now had a little to offer sailors, but the middle was almost a DMZ. It was all famous, as long as you did not have to go back in towards the mark, when the tacking angles would make you cry. It would be a little like a lottery, but Etchells racing can do that.
Iris III would be first around, with the reigning NSW Etchells Champions on Ciao in second place. That they had won last year at Cronulla in huge seas and breezes and then be making it happen here in flat water and shifty winds was not lost on the spectators. Doing well too were Magpie and Umami, which would end up being a bit of a tone for the day. Mid-fleet the congestion was about as real as what you can get on the F3 which brings you here from Sydney. Most went back down the right hand side of the course, but a few mid-fleeters went off to the left and caught an elevator that sent them straight past those moorings once more and catapulted them towards the top. The remainder would follow and so you had the somewhat traditional Etchells dichotomy, with half on one side and the other half over on the opposing part of the course. Huge gybe angles and the spinnaker pole on the forestay meant this was never going to be a fast race.
At the bottom for the first time the snakes and ladders were evident, both at the very top and just below, thanks to that elevator. Ciao had taken hold and would continue to stretch that lead, whilst many would move around in positions three to ten. Heading back up to the top, most would go and explore the right hand side, where a line of breeze had become evident and with the course change to 030˚ it was the better choice, too. The lead would be stretched even more as they went around at the top, with Umami now holding second from Magpie. The question would be was there to be a finish at all, as the breeze had become quite ghostly.
Reigning NSW Champions, Ciao, had a commanding lead in Race One. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship - John Curnow ©
There would be a finish in this testing race, which was good given all the effort the crews had gone to. One thing you had to be present to was that giving up was not an option, for you could be famous again, just as easily as you had been sent to purgatory and three places here could be winning spread. Ciao would claim the win by around four minutes in the end. Skipper, Doug McGain, commented afterwards 'More than happy with that and we’ll take it. Certainly lucky and it came good for us on the right. Getting around the top was difficult, so it is nice to get a result.' Of their ability to do well in the moguls and also slope style, McGain just said, 'Bit more practice yet and we’ll be right.'
The second race of the day was held up a little as the holes appeared all over the water. The breeze would go right after this hold up and swing right around to 180˚. However, up in Caroline Bay it was still 060˚. Normally, the Southerly would win the battle, but that did not occur, is it went back to say 120, then 85 at 1410hrs. More waiting under Answering Pennant as eight knots blew through and you may have witnessed double digits if you had your head up at the precise moment. The left side of the course was still not filled in, so it was time for more waiting yet.
Another two-lap race would get underway at just after 1430hrs to 050˚ at around the one nautical mile range. It was another clean start, except for Predator who had a long chat with the crowding mark. There was that some sag in the middle, except for about three boats that marched off. Indeed the centre was the best option, in the end, and the top was nowhere near as full as the bottom, so if it was six knots you’d have been thrilled. Whilst Umami lead at the top, it was a race that would be owned by Magpie, who had an amazing first run down. Probably not surprising given Graeme Taylor is sailing with Steve Jarmin and Grant Simmer, but you do have to applaud them and all the leading crews really, for it was terribly quiet out on the water, with no one yelling. A sure sign of good plans and even better execution.
So of the right hand side was favoured for the first work, then the centre was the go for the second. The kites were flown a little squarer now, but that would change about half way down when there would be a skew to about 085˚ and require the poles to go back up to the forestays. It also meant those that had been out right had to come back on awful gybe angles to make the finish line. Graeme Taylor said of the win, 'Nice to be in the calculations and hard work required on this tricky day. Lucky I have got no hair already and some frustrated souls back at the clubhouse later on. Not sure if we’re that inspired for the last race at this moment.'
The final race of the day would be set for 075˚ after the first attempt was brought back and went under AP, momentarily. After both of the easier starts, this one would be quite crowed with, The Hole Way, the only one to voluntarily return and go back through again. There was a real left hand bias to the where the fuller breeze was to be found. Not getting stuck behind Point Frederick as you worked up to the top was a good idea. This was a race for No Star early and then The Hole Way took over on the second work. Delighted to have protected their position with their return after start, to get a win was even better. 'We’ll take it and it is shifty, so happy times currently.'
Miles, Crowle and Sampson had a good third race. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship - John Curnow ©
Richie Allanson on No Star commented, 'The day got better as it went on. A tenth could well be a keeper by the end, so we’ll see how it all goes from here.' Richie is part of North Sails, who have the new job as the mid fleet prize. Roger Hickman and the Sun Tzu team hold that place at the end of the first day, so it is not surprising that he was working through the results when they were posted.
Regatta Chairman, Don Wilson, was another one feeling the love today, as well he should. After the racing he said, 'Absolutely fantastic to get thee races in for the day and the race management team worked hard with all the shifts that occurred. Full credit to them and what a fantastic job, too. They moved the course when they need to, held up racing when it was prudent to do so, but equally, got on with it when the opportunity was there.'
'There was a moment when it seemed the fleet was ready for the final race and perhaps the mass movement towards the clubhouse was a sign, as well. It is all smiles now back ashore and super delighted with the size of the fleet and the way everyone has had a magnificent day’s racing, whether they were first or 31st, the mark roundings have been tight the whole way through the fleet. That’s Etchells racing for you and we can only hope for more. Brilliant support form everyone in the lead up to this, so well done Gosford', said Wilson.
Malcolm Page delivers his thoughts on 420s and his Olympic success. - Garmin NSW Etchells Championship - John Curnow ©
Now those who hung around for the daily presentations of the multiple bottles of wine to the individual race winners also received an added treat. It came in the form of a personal account of the Olympic years by none other than Malcolm Page, who is now the Chairman of the ISAF Athletes’ Commission. Apart from being informative about the methodical way they went about achieving their successes, it was also terrific to get an insight into the physical and emotional aspects that this softly spoken man went through on the way to owning Gold for the rest of his life.
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