For the fifteenth year in a row many of the top Etchells sailors in the Asia-Pacific are heading to Mooloolaba on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast to battle for one of the most prestigious titles on the sailing scene. While National and World titles move from venue to venue, the Musto Etchells Winter Championship each June long weekend has become an Australasian sailing institution.
Over the fourteen Etchells Mid-Winter Championship events so far held, not a single skipper has been able to take a second title.
As last year’s runner up Dave Clark, originally a New Zealand America’s Cup sailor now sailing out of Sydney, explained today ‘I reckon it is a reflection on the quality of the fleet that attend. We call it the lifestyle regatta because we don’t just go up to Mooloolaba to race, we come up here to relax and because it is so much fun outside the racing.’
Clark and his crew will face some stiff opposition in their run at this year's title.
Clark agrees. ‘This year the event is wide open yet again. To win we’d have to get past Ante Razmilovic, the Hong Kong based British sailor who is sailing with his brother Nils. He was second at the Irish Worlds (2010) and is Mr Consistency. Damien King’s Barry team was third at the 2010 Worlds after coming second in 2009 in Melbourne. Alistair Gair from New Zealand was last year’s winner here.
‘Then there’s Mark Johnson from Sydney who came third last year and won the NSW title just a few months ago, there's Mark Bulka who was second to World Champion John Bertrand at the last Nationals in Geelong in January this year and Peter McNeil, the 2004 Etchells World Champion who won that title at this very venue.’
Another gun sailor Peter (Billy) Merrington is equally keen to be the 15th Etchells Mid-Winter Champion. He sailed as crew with Kiwi Cameron Appleton when Appleton won the title in 2003 and he wants to win the event in his own right. Merrington, a Volvo Round the World and America’s Cup sailor, with his brother Anthony and owner Geoff Bonouvrie are ramping up their Etchells racing ahead of the 2012 Sydney Worlds.
‘I believe there’s at least a dozen potential winners; very experienced, very talent crews. Beyond Dave’s list there is Mark Thornburrow from Hong Kong, the 2002 winner Mark ‘Squark’ Bradford, the current Queensland Champion Vaughan Prentice, 1999 winner Ian Johnson, Jervis Tilley, 2001 winner Michael Coxon, 1997 winner Dave Rose... when you start running through the list the strong sailors go deep into the fleet and that’s part of the beauty of sailing Etchells.
'I think it’s awesome that no one skipper has ever won this event twice; I hope we get another new champion by Sunday afternoon.
‘The thing about the Etchells is it’s such great camaraderie on the land and such fierce rivalry on the water.’
Many commentators expected Damien King and his Barry crew to be in San Diego this week for the Etchells Worlds.
King explained. ‘We are best in heavier weather and with family commitments we decided the Musto Mid-Winters with a range of offshore conditions, would be more helpful leading up to the Sydney Worlds and the level of competition will be again very strong in Mooloolaba.
‘As always there are probably 20 or more boats that could win any one race in this regatta, so it is sure to come down to the final races. With probably the strongest ever Asian and NZ representation this is going to be a great regatta.
‘Bring it on. Can’t wait for that first starting gun on Friday morning!’
On Wednesday and Thursday a steady stream of boat trailers will arrive from across Australia and on Thursday the boats will be launched from two cranes operating at the Mooloolaba Marina and the Fishermans Co-op on Parkyn Avenue.
And the message from Mooloolaba Etchells fleet captain, the effervescent Trevor Martin is, ‘we have the most popular Etchells track in the world, a great field and we will provide the wind, but bring your wet weather gear!’
Musto Etchells Australasian Winter Championship http://www.mooetchells.yachting.org.au