The Zhik International Etchells 2012 Australian Championship, which starts on Saturday 11th February, brings together an impressive group of sailors.
The four day event held on the Barrenjoey Head offshore course off Pittwater, has attracted a fleet of 64 yachts from overseas and Australia, comprising professional and Corinthian sailors. There really is nothing unusual about this; the Etchells class essentially is made up of both weekend warriors and high-end sailors all of whom take simple pleasure in racing in a strict one-design class.
What is particularly interesting about the class national championship is the various personalities found when delving into the back-end of the entry list.
Not unsurprisingly the Zhik Etchells Nationals has attracted Etchells World Champions. Australia has produced 11 winners and numerous second and third place getters over 37 years. This year the nationals will see competing four of those winners competing – John Bertrand (2010), Peter McNeil (2004), Cameron Miles (1999) and John Savage (1988 and 1979). From overseas, Britain’s Andy Beadsworth (2007) will be crewing with James McHugh and from USA, Jud Smith (2006) and Vince Brun (2000).
Next are the Olympians. Racing in both helm and crew positions there is Tom King, Tom Slingsby, David Giles, Bob Wilmot, Gary Boyd, David Edwards, Steve Jarvin, Owen McMahon, Neville Wittey, Josh Grace and Scott Kaufman along with Andy Beadsworth and John Bertrand.
Then there are the Match Racers. Joining Australian Sailing Team’s Technical Coordinator and match racing champion Michael Dunstan who will be crewing for Julian Plante is West Australian Keith Swinton, mainsheet hand and tactician for Grantham Kitto.
Swinton’s Black Swan Match Racing Team had a brilliant year last year on the match racing circuit winning the Grade 1 event in Chicago and another one in Berlin to take them to an impressive 12th in the ISAF Match Racing rankings, released yesterday.
'I am still really busy doing the match racing stuff, but this is something for the summer. It is really good to diversify with the sailing instead of doing the same sailing all the time.
'The (nationals) racing is going to be really, really tight. I know the class racing is really good, even in Perth just on the river with a small fleet. Coming into the nationals and worlds it will be a much bigger fleet and very, very competitive. That is the main thing for me is sailing in a very competitive fleet. It all helps your sailing skills. It will probably help me with some of the tactical stuff for even the match racing,' Swinton said.
Across the fleet there are many ocean racers; some high profile, such as Wild Oats’ Mark Richards and Graeme Taylor, and many not so well-known. Taylor will be changing places this weekend moving from Richards’ co-skipper to rival skipper taking with him Wild Oats stalwart, Steve Jarvin. Fresh from their line honours in last year’s Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, Investec Loyal’s Peter Merrington, Michael Coxon, Tom Braidwood and Rob Scrivenor will all be among the fleet.
Crew member Sarah Board helps to prepare Brisbane boat Rapscallion - Zhik Etchells National Championship 2012 - Tracey Johnstone ©
Paving the way for the growth in female participation in the Etchells class is skipper, Jeanne-Claude Strong. She is joined by 11 other female crew across both 3-man and 4-man teams. 'I love racing in the Etchells fleet because it's such a highly competitive and passionate group of yachtsmen who are top performers with magnificent drive, determination, enthusiasm and commitment, making for great post regatta anecdotes; and it's wonderful to see more women in there as it adds another dimension to the class,' Strong said.
Melbourne’s Ann Stubbings returns this weekend to nationals racing continuing her 12 year Etchells partnership with her brother, Peter. 'Having Ross, our third crew member, on-board sitting between us always helps to avoid sibling arguments.
'Peter is great to sail with. He is very tolerant of my occasional outbursts and he doesn’t even mind if I cleat the spinnaker in for the occasional short rest when it’s windy,' Stubbings said.
Stubbings is another who has helped paved the way for women in the Etchells class. Off the water she has been an active supporter of the class for many years previously taking on the roles of Melbourne fleet captain and International Class Governor.
'It is great to see there are 12 women competing in the Nationals and it would be fantastic to have more women racing Etchells all the time. It would also make for more interesting class dynamics. I am not sure why more women don’t sail Etchells. The numbers seem to fluctuate from one regatta to the next, but generally there are a lot less women than in other classes which is disappointing.
'Allowing four person crews has certainly helped to attract more women into the class, but we also need to encourage women to participate as part of three person crews. There is no reason why they can’t. It can be challenging at times, but women thrive on challenges. '
The Zhik Etchells Nationals also sees an increase this year in the number of 4-man crew with 16 teams for the event. And, if all skippers are telling the truth about their age, the average age of the helmsman is 49 years.
The event has attracted solid overseas representation with eight international entries from New Zealand, USA, Britain, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Singapore.
Father and son teams may not be new, but it is always good to see them in among the fleet. Lake Macquarie’s Jamie Woods and father Tom are back for another major event. Jamie only recently moved from the bow to take the helm from his dad. At 22 years old, Jamie is the youngest skipper in the fleet.
Other father and son combinations are Sydney Fleet’s Stephen and Nicholas Ingate, and Michael and son, David, Thackray.
While 26-year-old Nicholas learnt his sailing from his grandfather, Gordon Ingate, he has shared many competitive experiences with his dad including the 2011 Etchells Nationals where the team placed 33rd. 'We don’t much (sailing) together, but the relationship is pretty good. We did the nationals last year and we are still speaking to each other,' Stephen quipped.
David Thackray seems unsure about what his position will be on the boat this regatta, but he is sure he is going to have a good time with his dad. 'We’ve been sailing together for about five years. We usually get on fairly well on the boat,' Thackray said.
Should’a Gone Left mates Wayne Dixon, Peter Coleman and Iain Gartley - Zhik Etchells National Championship 2012 - Tracey Johnstone ©
And then there are the sail hard, play hard mates. They’ve sailed together for years, travelled to many Etchells events and each time, sailed to the best of their ability. These sailors love to mix it up with the likes of John Bertrand, Jud Smith, Cameron Miles, Vince Brun and more. Sometimes they deliver race winning results, other times they are just happy to finish ahead of other boats from their local fleet.
The Melbourne Fleet members on ‘Should’a Gone Left’ – Peter Coleman, Wayne Dixon and Iain Gartley - are just one of those dedicated teams. They made the trek to San Diego for last year’s Worlds; 'let’s not talk about the results' and are already planning their program for Worlds in Newport, Rhode Island in 2014. But firstly, they and their supporters intend enjoying every moment, on and off the water, at the Zhik Nationals.
The International Etchells 2012 Australian Championship is sponsored by Zhik, North Sails, Pacesetter Yachts, Protector Yachts and Wetton Signage Group.
The full entry list can be found on the event website