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18ft Skiffs: "We've never felt like that before. The boat just took off!"

by Richard Gladwell 6 Mar 2019 04:26 PST 7 March 2019
C-Tech and Noakes - 2019 JJ Giltinan Championship, Sydney Harbour, March 2019, © Michael Chittenden

New Zealand's C-Tech (Alex Valling) had a memorable day on the third day of racing in the JJ Giltinan Championship for 18ft skiffs on Sydney harbour.

Vallings and his crew of Matt Coutts and Sam Trethaway were dominant in the first of two races sailed for the Alan Cole Memorial Trophy.

"We've never felt like that before. The boat just took off," Matt Coutts told Sail-World after the two races.

In the first race, C-Tech was second at the windward mark for the first time before hitting the lead on the second upwind leg and was never headed.

Sailing in a sea breeze officially clocked at 19-22kts, but with crews reporting gusts of close to 25kts, it was a day for the #2 rig for the first time in the event.

The fleet got away cleanly from the start with no recalls, with Winning Group (John Winning Jnr) leading around the first mark from Smeg (Michael Coxon) and with C-Tech (Alex Vallings) and ASCC (Josh Porebski) in third and fourth on the water.

The fleet was tested downwind with all boats frequently going airborne. Surprisingly the boat handling across the fleet was a very high standard - and the crews were sailing mainly on confidence in the testing but not extreme conditions.

C-Tech was the top performer on the leg moving through the three boats ahead to be first through the bottom gate, With Winning Group in second and Honda Marine moving into third.

"On the second work we managed to get into clear space and use our boat speed, and we were in front by a good margin by the top mark."

From there C-Tech was never really headed winning the race from Honda Marine by a margin of 10 secs with the lead Australian boat Smeg, 30 seconds behind.

"We had good speed in the Nationals in the breeze - that was the last hit-out that we had," Sam Coutts explained. "But it is hard to tell as the other New Zealand boats - Honda and ASCC are also sailing fast as well - so we didn't know how we were going to go until we got here and came up against the Aussies."

The consensus is that the New Zealanders are at least as fast as the Australians or better. "We have to try and find a way to get more height out of the boat. But we are comfortable when we get into our own space - in that breezy stuff."

A feature of Race 3 was the boat handling across the fleet, albeit with flattish water for the first race of the day. "We had put in a lot of work on boat handling in the lead up to this year's event,' Coutts explained. "We had a couple of interesting moments during the gybes, but we would like to think we were very comfortable in those conditions."

"Not having the boat for a couple of weeks while it transits to Australia, means we have to blow out the cobwebs a little when we arrived," he added.

Race 4 did not go well for C-Tech. "We sailed a similar race. We couldn't punch out from the start line quite as well as in the previous race, and at Bradleys [Head] we were in the bunch, and we were in dirty air for a lot of the beat, But we felt like we were pulling boats back.

"It was downwind when we made the big gains, passing a few boats first on the starboard gybe heading to Bradleys, and then on the other gybe heading for the bottom mark, we made a few more, rounding in fourth place." [Behind Smeg, ASCC, and Finport].

"We were pretty clean rounding the windward mark, and then Bing Lee established an overlap from behind and to windward. When they hoisted, they sailed down on top of us, and we hit. My trapeze line broke, and they made contact. There was some crunching of carbon as the wings touched. The main damage was our trapeze line broke, and I fell off, and we lost the hook and bunch of other gear. Ginge (Alex Valling) capsized, and I wound up swimming over to the boat. There was a safety boat in place to make sure I didn't get hit by the boats behind us."

"We got the boat upright, sailed the final leg and finished 15th."

Bing Lee did penalty turns, over the incident however C-Tech will be seeking redress in a protest hearing on Thursday afternoon.

On Honda Marine, Matt Stevens says they were happy with the boat speed "but will be working on it."

The series leader came away with a 2,3 scorecard for the day, which is enough to keep them on top of the points table.

Honda Marine's performance was notable for making big gains downwind. "We were pleased with our boat handling - that saved us overall - along with sailing in better pressure."

"With the two race format [and shorter courses] we worked on being less conservative at the start and being upfront earlier on. It didn't quite work out that way."

Stevens said they were happy with their downwind speed and could pick up a couple of boats each time on gybes and mark rounding." "We were often training and sailing by ourselves - so we put a lot of emphasis on it."

"Boat handling gives you a lot better return than speed," he added.

"We are confident in most situations that we push a bit harder than most of the fleet."

Honda Marine was on their #2 rig for the first time on Day 3. To some commentators, it did not look as well set up as the #1 rig had done on the first two days of the regatta.

"We still had a little more to go and weren't at the top end of the range for the rig. We were a little overpowered and will be making some tweaks to correct that."

Stevens says they are reasonably comfortable with the series generally, but says it is "early days".

One of the features of the racing in this event is that the top half of the fleet are all very closely matched in speed. "There is a lot of consistency from the other teams. There is a lot more depth to the fleet than last year. And more boats can win races."

ASCC (Josh Porebski) also had a good day, finishing sixth in Race 3 and third in Race 4. With the benefit of being able to drop a discard race, they are lying in fifth place overall, while C-Tech is ninth overall - pending a redress claim for Race 4.

Maersk Line (Peron Pearse, Harry Clark and Eli Liefting) had their best race of the series finishing a creditable eighth place in Race 4 and lie 18th overall.

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