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Wilcox finishes second in OK Dinghy Nordic Championships

by Bob Smith on 4 Jun 2013
Jake Weeks prepares for the start at Napier 2013 Brass Monkey Ben Morrison

The European summer season got going in the weekend with an impressive 70 boat fleet at the Nordic Championships sailed at Herslev Strand Sejlklub on 1 & 2 June, won by Sweden’s Thomas Hanson-Mild with NZ’s ambassador to European OK sailing, Greg Wilcox, pulling out an impressive second place.

Meanwhile, down in the wild Southern frontier of OK sailing, the 2013-2014 NZOK Tour kicked off with the mid-winter Brass Monkey regatta in Napier.

The 2013-2014 NZOK Tour, which New Zealand OK men like to tell themselves is the toughest OK racing circuit in the world, has a lot going for it. First, this year the NZ sailors get to count an extra regatta towards international OK ranking points, in addition to the NZ National Championship. The Australians have been given the same treatment. This is a positive move which gives the world rankings a lot more significance for sailors from 'downunder'.

Second, all of NZ’s OK sailors with international aspirations are now (or should be) very much in preparation for the 2014 Worlds in Melbourne. This is a contest that is relatively easy for Kiwis to travel to, and the early signs are that New Zealand will be sending an extremely strong team across to try for the title. The 2013-2014 NZOK Tour will be the last full tour before the Melbourne Worlds, and so it provides a vital means for NZ OK sailors to prepare for the big event.

This year’s Brass Monkey also comprises the opening contest of the 2013-2014 NZOK Tour and counts towards Tour points. That, combined with the fact that NZ’s intrepid team was back from Thailand and needing to collect their boats from Napier, resulted in a record Brass Monkey fleet, with 26 boats. Not bad for a mid-winter contest!

This year, thankfully, the mighty Hawkes Bay produced stunning weather for the entire contest (so the sailors didn’t have to suffer a repeat of the 2010 Monkey, when it actually snowed on the Sunday during a 25-knot Southerly buster).

Four races were sailed on Saturday in a 12-18 knot westerly, with some awesome sailing conditions and hard, close racing.

In Race 1, Nigel 'Greyhound' Mannering started well and headed left, coming back with a good lead which he never relinquished, taking the win ahead of a massively improved Luke 'Mint Sauce' O’Connell in second, local boy Chris Fenwick in third, Ben Morrison in fourth and Paul Rhodes in fifth. This meant the first four finishers in Race 1 were born and raised, and started their OK careers, in Napier – coincidence?

In Race 2, Morrison worked the left up the first beat to take an early lead which he held until the final run to the finish, when Mannering cleverly gained some separation and slipped through to take the win by a nose on the line. Rhodes was third, recent Hawkes Bay immigrant Matt Stechmann sailed a strong race to take fourth, and Wellington’s Joe Porebski came through well to finish fifth.

By now a pattern was developing, and after the start of Race 3 most of the fleet stayed on starboard tack and headed firmly for the left hand corner. Morrison, who had a poor start and was forced to tack away early, found some good pressure up the middle of the track and sailed the shifts to lead at the first mark, just ahead of Rhodes, Fenwick and Stechmann who came in from the left and were chasing hard. This time Morrison was able to hold his lead, followed by Rhodes and Fenwick with Joe Porebski carding another good result in fourth and Stechmann in fifth. Mannering had a seventh, and slipped out of the overall lead.

Race 4 was the windiest of the day, with a fairly steady 15 knots and occasional gusts to 18 knots. Right off the start it was hand-to-hand combat between Stechmann, Rhodes and Morrison who initially headed left and fought for dominance. Morrison tacked first with Stechmann tacking immediately to leeward and Rhodes crossing them both and heading further left. Several more tacks followed and in the end, after a torrid battle, Morrison squeezed around the first mark just ahead of Stechmann, with Rhodes close behind and Mike Wilde, Porebski, O’Connell and Mannering battling for fourth- seventh.

Up the next beat Mannering took a break from racing and sailed all the way to the left-hand corner dairy; after collecting some bread, milk and the local rag, he came storming back to round the final windward mark in 4rd place behind Morrison, Stechmann and Rhodes. Morrison was able to hold his lead to the finish and take the coveted Tiki for the day, Stechmann was second and Mannering just slipped past Rhodes to take a photo-finish third. Wilde sailed an excellent race for fifth.

On Saturday evening, the good old NSC served up an excellent roast dinner and NZOKDA announced a new tradition: the presentation of Tiki stickers to all past winners of the Tiki. From now on, any sailor who wins the Tiki is presented with a replica Tiki sticker, which they are entitled to place on the transom of their mighty steed. NZOKDA has an important task now of identifying and verifying all past Tiki winners and getting a sticker to each of them.

If you have ever won the Tiki, and you weren’t at the Brass Monkey, please contact an NZOKDA officer and provide your postal address, and the NZOKDA council will verify your claim and send one out to you. So far there is at least one sticker heading overseas, to Greg Wilcox in Germany. No doubt there will be others!

There were three other presentations on Saturday night. First, a magnificent perspex 'V' (for 'Veteran') and an 'M' (for 'Master) were introduced to the NZ fleet, and will be awarded along the same lines as the Tiki but with the V going to sailors aged between 50-59, and the M going to sailors 60 and over. Thanks to Wellington Watercutting for supplying those marvellous trophies. And finally, there was a special presentation of the Golden Harpoon to Jake Weeks, for actions carried out under fire while on campaign in Thailand.

This was of course listed among the Queen’s Birthday honours on Monday, and from now on Jake will be referred to in formal correspondence as 'Jake Weeks, GH'. A great honour indeed! And, like all returning heroes, Weeks gracefully declined the opportunity to describe the actions leading to this prestigious award.

So, at the midpoint, Morrison led the 2013 Brass Monkey with 8 points, Mannering second on 12 and Rhodes third on 14. Stechmann was out of the running after a highly commendable piece of sportsmanship: having discovered, after racing, that he had fouled another boat in Race 1, he withdrew himself from the race and thereby added the maximum 27 points to his score. Well done Mr Stechmann.

Sunday dawned with clear skies and not a breath of wind. This carried on throughout the morning and several postponements, which enabled the fleet catch some sun and participate in the all-important activity of discussing OK sailing. Historically it has been these boatpark discussions that have led to most major NZOKDA initiatives, so they are a crucial part of the fabric of OK sailing in New Zealand. Finally, at 1pm a light Northerly breeze began to settle in, and the fleet put to see at 1.30pm. This would be a very different day’s sailing, with large shifts and breezes regularly dropping below 5 knots.

With a fairly strong current pushing the fleet across the start, the first attempt at Race 6 failed, with a general recall sounded. On the second attempt a clean start was achieved, and the fleet soon split to right and left, some heading out to sea (the left) in the hopes that the breeze would swing with the sun, while others headed right along the shoreline, hoping for the magical 'Napier Rules' to provide some right-hand-side assistance.

Local veteran Rob Hengst did it best, going left and picking up pressure and a good shift to establish a big lead at the first mark, followed by Jake Weeks, GH. Mannering sailed a brilliant first beat, not committing to either side but taking shifts and pressure lines, and working his way into third at the first mark. The places didn’t change significantly down the reaches, and then just after the bottom mark the wind swung hard into the west and increased to around 12 knots, turning the race into a procession.

By the finish, Jake Weeks had sailed into the lead with Mannering in second, Hengst taking a well-deserved third, Fenwick fourth and Miranda Powrie, the fleet’s lone female competitor, showing her preference for the lighter airs and taking out fifth.

After an impressively fast re-laying of the course, Race 6 was held on the 'W1' course (two windward-leewards) and started in a light westerly and the fleet headed off into the setting sun. Unsure of the best approach in the new breeze, the fleet spread itself fairly evenly across the course, with those going furthest left coming out in front. This time, Matt Stechmann claimed the best of it, and took the lead at the first mark, while Mike Wilde showed great speed and tenacity to round in second followed by Nigel Mannering, Luke O’Connell, Rob Hengst, Jono Clough and Chris Fenwick who were all sailing brilliantly in the lighter airs.

Stechmann held his lead all the way down the first run until, inexplicably, he rounded the leeward mark in the wrong direction and was forced to then round it twice in order to correct the mistake – this is just the kind of brain explosion that the pressure of NZOK Tour racing produces, and it cost the big fella a great chance at a Tiki. Instead, while Stechmann sorted that out, Wilde calmly rounded the mark and took the lead.

This was momentous, as Wilde had never won the Tiki and with just two legs to go in the last race of the day, this was a golden opportunity. With his heart in his mouth, Wilde kept his cool and held his lead all the way up the beat, and rounding the top mark for the final time it looked like he was on track to finally break his Tiki hoodoo. But there were two big problems not far behind Wilde, and their names were Nigel 'Greyhound' Mannering and Luke 'Cougar Bait' O’Connell – both downwind flyers.

In front, and stretching out seemingly forever into the distance, was the long, long run to the finish line. As Wilde made his way down the run, using every ounce of skill to keep the predators at Bay, he was relentlessly drawn in by Mannering and O’Connell until all three were almost neck and neck just a few boat lengths from the line. Wilde very nearly pulled it off, but in the last few metres Mannering did what he has done so many times before, and found a wave when his opponent couldn’t, sliding past to take the Tiki and the contest in a brilliant performance.

So Nigel Mannering is the well-deserved Brass Monkey champ for 2013, and takes an early lead in the 2013-2014 NZOK Tour. Morrison managed to hold on to second despite a couple of bad results on Day 2, while Rhodes was third, O’Connell fourth and Fenwick fifth. Mannering was also first Veteran (50-59 age group), while Marty Pike of Napier took out the Masters (60+ age group) title with his 18th overall.

A great result for Napier with the open, Veteran and Masters champions all being locals and 4 of the top 5 having started their sailing careers in these waters. This is testimony to the hard work the Napier sailors have been putting in. Already the old question is being raised: can they maintain it right through to the 2014 nationals…?

The next NZOK Tour event will be the Auckland Rum Bucket, scheduled to be held at Wakatere Boating Club at Labour Weekend in October. In the meantime, plans are afoot for an August training camp at Lake Rotoiti, and possibly one more elsewhere in the North Island. In the international OK scene, Kieler Woche (Kiel Week) is scheduled for 27-30 June and should involve a strong OK presence, and the OK European Championships will be held Carnac from 22-26 July. There is a lot of good OK sailing happening around the world, and in the build-up to Melbourne it will be important for the isolated NZ fleet to work hard and push each other to keep improving.

Huge thanks must go to Marty Weeks and Monkeys Fist Yachting for their efforts in organising the 2013 Brass Monkey, together with event sponsors Thirsty Whale, Café Ahuriri and Settler Wines.

© BS Sports Publishing 2013

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