Lake Macquarie yachtsman Peter McNeill today became the seventh Australian to win the prestigious Etchells World Championship when he outsailed a star-studded international fleet of 85 boats off Mooloolaba on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
The eight race series ended as it began, on a sparkling winter’s day and light winds, when McNeill and his crew of Greg Torpy and Paul Turner sailed Tom Pepper XVIII into fourth place to comfortable take out the series.
Going into the final heat, after an evening and morning of protests and changing decisions by the International Jury, McNeill and former World Champion Cameron Miles from Pittwater, sailing Pacesetter, were only two points apart.
Miles had a mediocre start in the big fleet and 5-7 knot easterly sea breeze, but climbed back up through the huge fleet from 40th place to finish 17th, sufficient to secure second place.
Third place overall went to Mornington sailor Glenn Collings, skippering Satu, who this evening won a protest against the Race Committee’s ruling that he had been OCS (on course side) as a premature starter in the final race.
He was reinstated to seventh place, displacing the provisional third place getter, Pittwater sailor, Julian Plante, sailing Odyssey, who finished eighth today.
America’s Cup legend and two-times past Etchells World Champion Dennis Conner from San Diego sailed Menace into fifth place overall despite being penalised as a premature starter in today’s race.
Remarkably, McNeill did not win a race throughout the regatta, his placings being 2-8-11-13-8-5-(37)-4 to finish with 51 points. Nor did Miles, his placings being 11-12-8-5-10-3-(33)-17 for 66 points. Third place getter Collings had one win to total 79 points from a scorecard of 14-23-16-12-(29)-1-6-7.
Plante had one win in the series to finish with 79 points from placings of 13-1-29-18-(42)-8-3-7. Conner finished fifth overall with 94 points and Squid (Chris Pratt, Adelaide) on 112 points.
A bonus for the winner is that not only did he win the World Championship with sails from his own sail loft, Peter McNeill Sails at Lake Macquarie, but fourth place getter Julian Plante also used his sails against a fleet in which the majority of sails were North.
“After the Australian Winter Championship here at Mooloolaba, Julian and I thrashed out some ideas about the best sail shapes to win the Worlds,” McNeill said. “We hit the nail on the head.”
McNeill, 42, who lives at Nords Wharf on Lake Macquarie with his wife Leoni and two children Robbie (11) and Elise (9), agreed that he had been under pressure over the final days of the regatta because of protests and claims for redress, but added that the tension eased quickly soon after the start of today’s final race.
“We had a reasonable start in the middle of the line, but quite a few boats crossed our bows before we managed to get out to the left of the course where we picked up some good pressure lines and rounded the first weather mark in third place,” he explained.
“When we saw we were well ahead of our nearest rivals, we knew that if we sailed conservatively in the light breeze we had it (the championship) in the bag.
“We came here to win…second place in the Worlds was no option,” McNeill added.
McNeill has now sailed in a dozen Etchells World Championships, finishing third to Cameron Miles at Pittwater in 1999 and fourth to England’s Stuart Childerley in Auckland in 2002. He began his sailing at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club but represented the Lake Macquarie Yacht Club in this regatta.
While Paul Turner, a successful 16-foot skiff sailor from the Gosford Sailing Club, has been sailing with McNeill for five or six seasons, Greg Torpy joined them only this year. Torpy, who crewed for Colin Beashel in the Star class at the Seoul Olympics, now lives on the Sunshine Coast and is a member of Mooloolaba Yacht Club.
While the winning Etchells sailed as Tom Pepper XVIII, it is actually named Mojo and was loaned to McNeill by Etchells newcomer Ian Knight. The original Tom Pepper XVIII is still owned by retired RPAYC yachtsman Barry Nesbitt.
Today’s race saw a win by prominent Hong Kong yachtsman Mark Thornborrow, skippering HK1269, who led around the course in the 6-7 knot easterly breeze for a comfortable victory from Victorian Noel Drennan sailing A Cat and Two Magpies, a play on his AFL football allegiance and that of his crew.
Third place went to New Zealand champion Cameron Appleton, skippering Embers, with Tom Pepper XVIII in fourth place. All three finished well back in the fleet, as did another America’s Cup legend and pre-regatta favourite John Bertrand, at the helm of Two Saints and a Magpie.
Bertrand ended a generally disappointing World Championship in 14th place overall, finishing with an OCS (on course side) as a premature starter in Race 8. His past America’s Cup rival Dennis Conner was also over the line at the start, but dipped back to re-start while Bertrand sailed on. However, as Principal Race Officer Arthur Hodge had already hoisted the Z flag, Conner was still penalised 20% of placings.
After an initial general recall, 18 boats were called as OCS on the second start with only three returning and re-starting, leaving 15 boats scored as OCS.
Race 8 did not start until 12.40 hours instead of the scheduled 10.00 because of an announcement by the International Jury that it had reversed its decision to abandon yesterday’s Race 8, which was followed by a several applications for redress, all refused.
Provisional ten top boats after seven races, with one discard:
1. Tom Pepper XVIII (Peter McNeill, Lake Macquarie) 2-8-11-13-9-5-(37)-4, 52 points.
2. Pacesetter (Cameron Miles, Pittwater) 11-12-8-5-11-3-(33)-18, 68 points.
3. Satu (Glenn Collings, Mornington) 14-23-16-12-(29)-1-6-7, 79 points.
4. Odyssey (Julian Plante, Pittwater) 13-1-29-18-(43)-8-3-8, 80 points.
5. Menace (Dennis Conner, San Diego) 23-11-(44)-8-2-19-4-28/ZFP, 95 points.
6. Squid (Chris Pratt, Adelaide) 9-(40)-6-25-12-7-36-19, 114 points.
7. Moody Blues (Rob Bird, Perth) 48-2-(51)-11-13-9-7-26, 116 points
8. Whooshka (Lucas Down, Mooloolaba) 29-(47)-1-31-5-23-8-22, 119 points.
9. Barry White (Damien King, Melbourne) 16-18-26-(51)-7-25-14-14, 120 points.
10. The Croc (Michael Manford, Perth) 19-57-33-1-1-(86/OCS)-13-12, 136 points