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The time is both right and now!

by Mark Roberts, President, IECAA 14 May 15:09 PDT
The Cure (1445) gets away off the line smartly, with Fumanchu (1444) on her transom. © John Curnow

It is nice to be able to begin with something positive. After 25 years building Etchells and a plethora of parts for the fleet, including many hundreds of masts, Phil Smidmore has decided that it is time to move on to the next chapter of his life. Phil will officially cease being the licensed Etchells builder in September. I will have much more to say about Phil closer to then, but for now, I am sure you will all join me in thanking Phil for his genuine endeavour in assisting to make the Class what it is today.

The process has already commenced, with Innovation Composites’ owner and long-time Etchells supporter, Mark Rowed all set to replace Phil. As most would know, Mark has been working with Phil for many years building Etchells from his premises in Nowra. With a dozen new boats coming out of the Australian moulds over the last 12 months, Mark and his boys are ticking along at a nice pace indeed!

This change is one of number that will take place on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking to the future, unquestionably spurred on by the environment in which we now live, has certainly been the focus of your Executive over recent months. In so doing, we have come to appreciate the need to consider quite separately those amongst us who are more interested in participating in local club racing, and those whose interests lay more in attending the various interstate regattas, national championship, and even global regattas. Common to both, however, is the innate desire to compete at a high level, and on a level playing field.

In that vein and recognising that it may be some time before regatta sailing as we knew it is once again possible, the Executive has come up with a rather novel idea, which we hope will excite you all. Starting soon, and assuming the support of the various fleets, we hope to launch the 2020/21 National Fleet Racing Championship League.

The upshot is that whilst racing in your home fleet waters, you will be competing against everyone else from across the country. It means that Brighton fleet sailors will compete against the Sydney fleet racing on the Harbour, and those on the Gold Coast, in Cronulla, Brisbane, Gosford, on the Swan, Lakes Entrance, or in Adelaide.

A scoring system is in development that will account for the status of your crew as either professional or amateur (or a mix of both), as well as the size of the fleet in which you race on any given race day. Boats will see themselves ranked over the course of the year, with the overall winning team being named the National Fleet Racing Champion.

Over the coming months, we will also be exploring some other ideas in respect of regatta racing. Rather than necessarily repeating each year the same traditional regatta format, we are looking at a program that could include:

• A national regatta series made up of the Australian Championship and the various State titles, as well as Mooloolaba or like events, where there would be individual winners of each event, in addition to an overall winner of the Australian Regatta Series.

• A match racing regatta, or a day of match racing prior to designated State titles and/or the national championship, again with individual winners, as well as an overall National Match Racing Champion being named. The idea would be for the same boats to be used by all participants. It is thought that this sort of racing will be particularly attractive to youth crews and dedicated match racing teams, and is a way to get them interested and involved in the Etchells

• Increased youth crew participation at the various State titles and national championship. The idea here being that major clubs who are developing a youth team or teams would send them to these events, where boats would be supplied, hopefully encouraging a number of youth teams who would compete for individual wins, as well as the overall Australian Youth Team Champion.

• Sail clinics run by professional coaches, outside of sanctioned events and more like coaching weekends.

Of course, while it might seem like ages ago when we were racing, in truth it was only a few months ago. In Australia we were incredibly fortunate to complete another fantastic season. What started out focussed on drought and then bushfire, certainly was different by the end, with flood and disease taking over. Despite it all, the generosity of the fleet, its sailors and spectators were staggering.

In total, $10,125 was raised and donated to the Australian Red Cross bushfire appeal during the Australian National Championships held at Brighton, Victoria. A large part of this came from individual donations. North Sails kindly raffled a brand-new jib with proceeds from ticket sales going to the bushfire appeal. Several skippers also donated their second sails to those needing an upgrade on the promise of a generous donation. With an international audience watching, the Etchells Association of Australia eclipsed other events, and the overseas donations also rolled in. However, it was not only money and goods that people provided, as demonstrated by Nicole Shrimpton, who generated the red ribbons as part of the Sailors for Relief concept.

The calibre of the racing continues to improve, with those who competed in the 2019/20 season having taken a big step in their preparation for the upcoming worlds not lost on me, nor any other observer of the Class. Well done to Graeme Taylor, James Mayo and Tom Slingsby on Magpie for their win at the nationals, which was raced in just about all conditions. That our Corinthian winner finished inside the top 10 and nearly top five is a marvellous achievement. To include a race win on the scorecard shows what can be done. A great result for Kirwan Robb, Rodney Muller, Brett Taylor and young cadet Josh Garner.

Back in November, The Cure (David Clark, Alan Smith and Andrew Smith) won the Queensland State Championship hosted at Southport and sailed offshore. Magpie won the NSW title towards the end of February, with selected Olympian Jake Lilley stepping in for Tom Slinsgby, who had SailGP duties to attend to. Sailed concurrently with the Vic Championship that was back at Royal Brighton, Royal Freshwater Bay YC held the Western Australian Championship in glorious conditions. Chris Pratt, Ethan McAullay and Harmon McAullay won on Azure, but it was very close with Michael Manford, Dean, McAullay and Nick Gray on The Croc.

In March, Iain Murray, Colin Beashel and Richie Allanson turned the table on Magpie at the Victorian Championship and won it with a race to spare, just as Magpie had done at the nationals. The Cure won the Corinthian title with a magnificent spell during the last race that capped off a regatta where they just got better and better each day.

The Victorian Championship is also worth noting for the new short course racing that was deployed over the three days, which was met enthusiastically by sailors and race management alike. Nine races were completed, which contrasts with just seven being the mark at the longer Australian championship. For sure they were tough days at the office and the body felt it, as I can attest to personally, but the overarching applause for it all was loud and sincere.

The Victorian Championship is also noteworthy as attracting a very high viewership on Facebook, despite having slightly fewer entries than the nationals, and being run over a shorter timeframe. The minutes viewed here and internationally has being the catalyst for the association to review having drone coverage and trackers at every major event. That time would certainly seem to be upon us!

The article looking at the Australian Etchells, and in particular the mould and laminate schedule was taken up globally by a very inquisitive media. Since then, we can tell you that the mould has been investigated and measured against the others internationally, and no advantage has been found or declared.

Finally then, it must be mentioned that the level of dedication to the fleet, the boats, and their sailing by our reigning World and Australian Champions alike is a testament to their skills, and the countless World Championships, Olympic Medals, America’s Cup and SailGP victories, along with offshore Line Honours wins and records that they hold serves to underscore this emphatically.

We are set to launch into a bold new future that will invigorate the Class for decades to come, and what a terrific time it is both now and into the future. Quite seriously, watch this space!

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