North Sails has bought together its significant technical and personnel resources to support its clients competing in the Zhik Etchells National Championship being held off Pittwater from the 11th through to 14th February.
Leading the technical team from onshore is North Sails Melbourne loft manager, Noel Drennan. Choosing not to race this series has allowed him to help his fellow North Sails team members prepare clients and themselves for battle.
The 51-year-old Drennan is eminently qualified for the task earning the respect and ear of his peers through his 20 years in the class competing in 15 Etchells World Championships, achieving a third in 1997 and a second in 2011.
While the team of eight Sydney and Melbourne loft staff head out to the race course, Drennan took a moment in his support schedule to reflect on the North Sails representation, at the Zhik Nationals; their roles at this event and at the Worlds, and the value the team will bring to their client’s performance.
Q: Who are your North Sails team for the Zhik Nationals ?
ND: We have Michael Coxon, Vince Brun and Paul Westlake on Menace, Billy Sykes on Hydrotherapy, Richard Allanson on Southern Light, Matthew Rhys-Jones on Fantazia, Andrew Coates on Odyssey and Ross Lloyd on The Doctor. At the Worlds, there will also be Dave O’Connor, Vaughan Prentice, Mark Bradford, Josh Torpy and myself.
Q: That’s a lot of staff out of the North Sails lofts. Why so many ?
ND: The majority of our staff are out here sailing because this is the most competitive keel boat class within Australia in terms of numbers and quality, and to stay current in competitive sailing you have to be out there sailing.
Q: In terms of other one-design class choices, are Etchells the best in terms of quality and currency of knowledge ?
ND: In a crewed one-design class, it probably is. We just don’t see the big fleet numbers in Australia like we are going to see at this regatta. With 80 boats at the Worlds and 60 boats at the Nationals; they are pretty high numbers.
Q: How many clients does North Sails have among the Nationals fleet ?
ND: It’s a pretty high percentage; about 65 to 70 per cent carry North Sails. For the Worlds it will be very similar.
Q: What has North Sails done to prepare those clients for the Nationals and the Worlds ?
ND: Earlier this season we conducted a full review of our Tuning Guide which included a three-day, two-boat sail testing session with Tom King and his crew who had just won the Mooloolaba mid-winters. I had my sails from the San Diego Worlds plus a complete range of our new sails.
Throughout the last four to six months I have sailed on more Etchells with different people than I ever had previously. With my 20 years in the class I have noticed the general technical knowledge of the middle of the fleet, front of the fleet and back of the fleet is much higher than ever before. The majority of the fleet seem to know the North Sails Tuning Guide and the various other brand tuning guides and what parts they like and what parts they don’t like, which is impressive to see.
Q: Why do you think this knowledge has improved ?
ND: I think it’s easier access on the internet with its many articles, tuning guides, YouTube, etc. Also, crews are tending to do more Etchells regattas and less club orientated sailing where you go the same way, the same everything, week in, week out. There is a slow progression towards regatta sailing where you prepare for a regatta a couple of days before with your sails and it is more condensed. I think that has driven a general knowledge increase.
Q: Can you give me an example of the level of support one of your Etchells Nationals client has received ?
ND: In Melbourne we have a very active group of boats practising regularly. This group includes John Bertrand, Mark Tonner Joyce, Jake Gunther and Ross Lloyd. Fortunately they all have North Sails and we have been able to assist with sail scanning recuts and general Etchells knowledge. We are using a new software package called ASA which allows us to scan sail photos and overlay one sail on another. This is a great tool since previously we could only compare by looking at the two photos. This is definitely helpful for us as sail makers and for the keen sailors to improve their sails and sail set-up.
There has been a pretty constant development across several clients. One thing that has been bought home to me is that there is half a dozen ways to sail an Etchells. I have been going from boat to boat; what works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another.
I have been promoting the fact that we have the basic ingredients with our sails and the Tuning Guide, and promoting to the client that they are going to have to make some of the decisions themselves on which way they want to go rather than us saying ‘you must have your sails set like that’. I think that is a better way of doing it as there are several ways.
I have been working closely with another Melbourne skipper, Chris Hampton. We recently did four days of testing off Manly on the Worlds course area. Chris works with his coach, Rodney Hagebols. It was great to have an outside vision of how we were both setting up our sails. I was sailing my boat against Chris. We had photographs and video, and Rodney on the water. Back on the land we debriefed as a group which is always helpful.
Q: Who is looking good out there for the Nationals ?
ND: There were a lot of boats that looked good out there during the practice session on Friday, but John Bertrand, Jud Smith and Graeme Taylor, of the few boats I saw, looked pretty good to me. With 16 knots in the afternoon and the regatta forecast of lighter winds, it evens up the playing field a little bit and brings along another group of people who might have orientated to a set-up for lighter air. Jud, John and GT looked very comfortable in the 14 to 16 knots and above.
Q:Why are you not racing in this event ?
ND: We think we have done a reasonable amount of sailing prior to the Nationals. We see it as a very long time to do the Nationals and then to do the Worlds; that is one reason. Also, one of my crew, Will MCarthy, has just had a baby this week so we just figured it was all looking just a little bit difficult.
We are however going out to watch the racing together as a crew. I think it is of benefit to us. We don’t get many opportunities to watch the fleet you race in, race. It’s a good perspective to watch sometimes rather than always sail.
Q: What services is North Sails offering to competitors at the Nationals and at the Worlds ?
ND: The repairs will be well catered for with so many people on each boat. But, one of the key things, with so many of the North Sails staff involved in the fleet, Michael Coxon and myself can’t speak to everybody. Sometimes one boat might say something about the sails to Billy Sykes, for example, that they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to myself or Michael Coxon. All the input is good whether it is good or bad; it is all of benefit.
We saw that at the Worlds in San Diego. There were a lot of North Sails personnel from Australia and the US. All that information from the North sail makers sailing on various boats was piled together after the Worlds. It’s often surprising what other people pick up that I may have not seen.
Q: What do see as the future for the Etchells class in Australia and North Sails involvement ?
ND: It’s a good class to sail. The boats are not that expensive. If you can get a good boat, you can hang onto it and be competitive for a long time. Once you learn the boats a little bit, you can put it away and not sail it for a while, then drag it out before a regatta, do a bit of practice and know you are going to be somewhat close to the action.
There are new people coming in, especially with the four-man crews. I think that is a great, positive change for the Etchells bringing in younger guys. Because of this the class in Australia is going to have a very strong future.
This regatta North Sails has put up an Encouragement Award, a new jib, for a Corinthian crew that sails all races and is placed half-way down the results.
North Sails has a genuine interest in the class; it is more than just making a dollar from the sails. Most of us have been long-term Etchells sailors and that is not going to change. We want to be here, we enjoy doing it and that is going to continue.
The International Etchells 2012 Australian Championship is sponsored by Zhik, North Sails, Pacesetter Yachts, Protector Yachts and Wetton Signage Group.
Regatta results can be found on http://www.rpayc.com.au/championship/int-etchells-class-australian-championship