A number of decisions including moving from Sydney to Airlie Beach, leaving behind one-design class racing, led Robert Holm to taking seven long years away from his passion.
But now, back on the water in charge of an Etchells and having again experienced the pleasure of racing in a one-design fleet, 64-year-old Holm has thrown himself right back into the fray so much so he is working on setting up a new Etchells fleet in the Whitsundays.
Previously an avid J24 class sailor racing on Sydney Harbour, Holm took his little boat to Airlie Beach in the hope of enjoying his racing up there as much as he did on the battle ground of the harbour. 'Sadly I found racing around the islands just wasn’t my cup of tea. What I found fairly smartly was that long skinny boats beat short fat boats, which is what a J24 is, so it became very hard to handicap and I got sick of the handicap discussion.
'I sold my boat and after that I must have spread some word that I was interested in buying an Etchells because over the seven year period I had people coming up at various times saying ‘are we going to get Etchells ?’ It was when I saw the Port of Airlie marina being built I saw myself on an Etchells in there,' Holm said.
In 2010 the chance to buy John Collingwood’s old Etchells and step into the class was just too good an opportunity. However, it did take Holm almost a year from purchase to his first sail on his new boat. He towed it all the way down to Geelong to compete in the national championship. 'It was the first time I had sailed an Etchells and I didn’t come last. It was strenuous at the start and there was a bit yelling on our boat. Towards the end of the racing we were improving. I think our best result was about 23rd.'
Holm’s next event is next month’s Musto Etchells Australasian Winter Championship held on the June long-weekend. This time he will have two friends from Sydney racing with him. With no training possible prior to the start of the winters it could be quite a challenge for Holm to master the Mooloolaba sailing conditions and learn to work with a different crew. 'Our expectation for the regatta is not to come last. We are going to have to learn about the venue, but at least we will be racing in a fleet of like-minded sailors all wanting to get the best start.'
Long term Holm is keen to get an Etchells fleet going in Airlie Beach. 'I am trying to promote Airlie Race Week for Etchells sailors to come up to attend. The idea of trying to attract some Etchells into Airlie Race Week is so that we can then establish a fleet. I think there are about 18 (Airlie) people interested in buying boats.'
Musto Etchells Australasian Winter Championship, 9th to 12th June – www.mooetchells.yachting.org.au