Listen to 'The Man'
29 November 2015
He’s been there since the very beginning. It did take a couple of years, but he won the first of his seven Etchells Australian Championships way back in 1972. At 69 he is definitely one of the oldest pointy end specialists going around and has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with this country’s premier One Design Class. He is, of course, the charismatic card known as, Billy Browne.
So on the eve of the 2016 Etchells Australian Championship that is to be held from January 9 to 15, nothing seems more appropriate than to listen to The Man. Hailing from the host club, Royal Brighton (RBYC) on the shores of Melbourne’s Port Phillip, it seems even further apt that we discover what has him so adhered to Skip Etchells’ skinny, wet ‘tractors’, as they are so affectionately known.
“Yes, I did start with the very first Etchells to arrive in Australia with John Savage. Together with Lawrence Baillieu and Noel Brooke we sailed AUS31. Noel’s father, Mick, had been an Olympic representative for Australia in the Dragons way back when. Indeed, many of the Dragon sailors at RBYC gave upon Dragons and Solings and jumped in to the first Etchells. Noel and I came from the Flying Dutchman, however”, said Browne.
“I’ve been around RBYC since I was five and may well be the longest serving active Etchellian today. Our first national title was sailed on Sydney Harbour. Bruce Ritchie and crew won that; indeed they nabbed the first few. Noel, Ian Pitt and I got our first in 1972. Subsequent to that, and over the years, I have had the pleasure of getting four more with John Bertrand (JB) and then also another two with Noel Drennan on the helm. In that time with Drennan we also collected a New Zealand Championship and beat the great Dennis Conner to get there. Conner came up to Noel after that and his America’s Cup life started there and then.”
“From 1989 I sailed for 12 straight years with JB, before taking a little break from it all. He won another Australian Championship in that time, hosted out of Adelaide. That was with (now Sir) Ben Ainslie and Andrew Palfrey. Accordingly, JB has one more than me and I don’t think I am going to catch him”, quipped Browne.
“I came back to Etchells around two or three years ago and I’m still the for’ard hand. So possibly I’m the oldest bowman in the fleet, but somehow seem to get through. A couple of things have changed that help with that. Firstly, we don’t have the wing mark anymore. In 20 knots those gybes out there were total killers! Next there’s our mainsail trimmer, ‘Young Jake’, as I call him. He’s really good and helps me out, bouncing up onto the foredeck and that means I can just trim the spinnaker.”
Browne went on to add, “The new electric pumps are a god send! We went out the other day on Port Phillip and it blew in a bit, so the chop started coming on board. The boat was completely dry the whole time, whereas in the past I would have spent half the work back to the windward mark doing pumping. The electric pump has totally saved my bacon!”
“You know if it wasn’t for the involvement with JB and his sublime abilities, then going on may not have happened. Nowadays we have up to nine races and six makes a series, whereas back then it was one race per day, albeit much longer, with a lay day in the middle. You did a triangle, then sausage and worked back home to the finish. The gybe mark really was something, especially in a blow, and trimming the kite was very difficult. Thankfully they changed it to get rid of the follow the leader aspect that style of course favoured. Now you can play opposing sides of the course and eek out advantages in shifts, etc.”
So then, JB’s boat, Triad, is known to be very quiet. Very quiet! It is terrific to watch. Browne says of it, “JB puts his trust in his crew members. You have got your job and know what you’re doing. Mistakes are taken in our stride, and the concentration is on getting the best out of our boat. ‘Just get on with it’ is the mantra. JB has never, ever once said a bad thing to me! Noel Brooke and JB are very similar in this regard, and also with the way they helm through the waves.”
“It adds to the enjoyment and makes the sailing terrific. It also helps with keeping your mojo and is less tiring as well, especially at the end of the regatta when it counts. We do try to be first out on the water and we’re on the job when we’re there”, said Browne by way of passing on the good oil.
Triad can possibly be best described as an F117 Nighthawk stealth fighter. If you look at the scoreboard you may not necessarily see them, yet they are there and absolutely ready to strike! At the 2015 title in Adelaide they had to win the last race and other things fall into place for them to get the crown once more, but they backed themselves all the way. “Our eyes stay out front. There is no point getting engaged in a duel, for everyone loses then. You cannot worry about anyone else, just deal with your stuff and make that work to the best of your abilities.”
“You could say that I’ve had a really good ride with the principal people I have been around. There have been more than a few podiums with JB, and that really is so very special and a real treat. Hopefully on our home deck we should be competitive and we are really looking forward to it and the anticipated 60+ boat fleet”, Browne said in closing.
In an article all about great legends, it would be remiss not to mention that a certain Tony Ellis, who along with Stephen Tait, are listed as crew on Mike Thackray’s Etchells, Trekka. The reason is that by the time Ellis arrives on Port Phillip, he will have knocked over 48 Sydney Hobart races. The other Tony (Cable) hits 50 in 2015 and is the clear leader on that special board – just had to find a place to mention that.
“Tony was one ahead, but I did not go last year. I am looking forward to that race and the boat is going well. It’s all about the weather and the pattern will determine who is best placed to get the overall prize. I do love the Etchells. I was involved a lot with them, back 20 and 30 years ago, then dropped out. Back in 2011 Mike got me involved again, just as a fill in, and here we are today as permanent crew!”
“It is a great fleet with an awesome group of sailors. What separates the Etchells is the co-operation and competition. You can go from peacock to feather duster in one minute and sometimes back the other way, which is tad harder… Our Etchells roster has Port Phillip for the Australian Championship, then possibly Metung, the Milson Silver Goblets at the Squadron and then Belmont for the NSW Championship, so we’ll have a great time and lots of Etchells sailing”, said Ellis.
So it seems entirely appropriate to have a little reminder in here for all those above the 34 entered thus far, and still intending to partake of the challenge and merriment that will be the 2016 Etchells Australian Championship. Simply put, the Notice of Race states, ‘Entries close at 1700hrs on Friday 18th December 2015. Late entries will be accepted at the discretion of the Organising Authority, subject to a late entry surcharge of $150. No entries will be accepted after 1700 hrs on Friday 8th January, 2016.’ The aide memoir would simply be, “Get onto it!”
Sailors will also be part of the terrific daily and overall prizes at the 2016 Etchells Australian Championship, courtesy of Gill and Harken. North Sails will once again provide a brand new headsail as the midd-fleet prize. Now just joining the sponsors’ roster is Distress Rate Media. Their specialty is the use of last minute advertising opportunities across Television, Radio, Outdoor, Print and Online to help deliver a higher impact campaign for small to medium clients.
So thank you to them and all the other sponsors as well; Entire, Graphic Effects, GFS Electrical, Gunther Developments, Protecon Solutions, and Saltytag.com.au Now talking of being good, please buy the 2016 nationals apparel from Gill. Support your Class, for the proceeds go to running the regatta, so ultimately there’s more for everyone. Make your purchases online, which you can do with a few clicks from etchells.org.au.
To check out all things Etchells, and most importantly to book in for this sensational clash of the crews, please visit etchells.org.au and start clicking away. Don’t forget your shirt sizes, which you’ll also need for the entry. Now is the time to sign on for this grand spectacular, known colloquially as the Etchells nats. Come January 2016, however, it will time for the spectators to see if Billy Browne can add to his impressive tally, which will still mean he stays one behind the other great man, JB.