NEWS

Australasian Winter Championship

Strong comes of age taking first major title

7 June 2015 Author: Tracey Johnston
Happy Winners! YandooXX. JC, Marcus, Nev and Tiana.

 Happy Winners! YandooXX. JC, Marcus, Nev and Tiana.Photographer: Teri Dodds

Jeanne-Claude Strong and her team of Neville Wittey, Marcus Burke and Tiana Wittey have been crowned winners of the Marinepool 19th Etchells Australasian Championship being conducted by Mooloolaba Yacht Club.

This is the first time a woman has won a major Etchells class title in Australia. And it is the first time Strong has won a major event. This is an excellent result for a class that has been in recent years pro-active in encouraging women to join the class in helming or crewing positions.

"I still find it hard to believe," Strong said after returning to the dock and hearing the news of the overall results.

"I made the decision last year when we started to improve our results that we would make the most of it. How many years have I got left in good quality racing ? We have done more physical, gym training and a lot of on-water training with everyone else. We have put a lot of hours in on the water," the 61-year-old Strong added. Her team has been together for about five years and they have also competed in a lot of Etchells events both in Australia and overseas.

Strong finished race one today in second place after working their way through the big ocean swell and gusty wind, at times up to 26 knots. But in the second race things seemed to not go their way as they finished in a nail-biting 19th place. "We just didn't pick the shifts. Our start wasn't too bad and we had clear air. We went right and had a good lift towards the flatter water which we did on race one and it seemed to work. But it didn't work the second time," Strong added.

At the start of the day Cameron Miles and his crew, James Mayo and Grant Cowle, were in first place with a two-point lead on Strong. But by the end of the day, the reverse had happened. While Miles went into today confident the stronger conditions were where he raced best, a handful of poor tactical decisions bought him down just when it counted the most.

"We got a bad start in the first race and that let us down. We couldn't tack so we got buried and had to fight back," Miles said. They finished 15th in that race.

"In the second race we sailed quite well until the last run really. We were in third spot and we hoped we could hold that spot and get Clarkey (David Clarke), but dropped a couple right down the bottom. We let Land Rat and Chewy through. It was just bad sailing.

"All credit to Nev (Wittey) and Jeanne-Claude. They sailed very, very well. I was surprised to see them up there when it got windy, but certainly wasn't surprised to see them up there in general.

"I think we could have done better in that breeze. I expected us to do better, but it didn't work out that way," a bitterly disappointed Miles added after finishing the second race in fifth place.

Hong Kong's Mark Thornburrow must have been saying at the end of Race 7, 'if only'. Thornburrow and his team of tactician and gold medallist Olympian Malcolm Page, Simon Cooke and Michael Huang, delivered a second day of perfect racing with a sixth and then a first. They went the right way and they went fast.

"It was really picking the shifts and good boat speed. Malcolm was fantastic on the tactics and boat handling," Thornburrow said. But, they had to count their poor first day results after breaking their jib halyard.

He was very, very surprised to have moved into third overall, just one point ahead of Brisbane Fleet's John Warlow. "Bloody hell," was his candid reply on being told the result. He assumed that since they were so far back on the results there was no chance they could make it up onto the podium. Cooke had the last word on the team's results since he was the one to climb the mast to repair the halyard. "To get to third, I think that was a good effort from us."

With the swell and pressure up today, some of the top boats after Day 2 just couldn't hold onto the top pack - Warlow's results were a 17th and a third, Michael Coxon's were first and a 17th and Peter McNeill's were third and 23rd.

Defending Australasian champion, Matthew Chew, came out fighting for a second day delivering an eighth and then a fourth.

In seventh overall was David Clarke with team of young sailors from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. They had been doing a great job of working their way up the results throughout the three-day regatta to finally nail a second in the last race.

Mooloolaba Yacht Club will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Etchells Australasian Championship in 2016. The dates of the regatta will be June 9th to 12th.

All regatta information is available at mooloolabaetchells.com.